A modest proposal: wear a Whole Earth photo

One of the important events of my life was receiving, while imprisoned for an anti-war protest, an original print of a NASA photograph of the Earth taken on the 16th of July 1969. It arrived shortly after the safe return of the Apollo 11 crew following their successful moon landing. This stunning image immediately became the main decoration of my cell and, 50 years later, is here in our living room. I often carry a laminated print of the photo with me when I have a lecture to give and pass it around, commenting that this small planet is home address of all of us. It was with me when I spoke in Edinburgh recently. Out of the blue came an idea: I suggested that wearing a badge with a Whole Earth photo on it would be an excellent way to tunnel under ideological and political barriers that so often divide us in this ultra-polarized time — an image without words or slogans, as silent and prayer-inspiring as an icon. It’s not a me-versus-you emblem. It simultaneously challenges both ourselves and others to take greater responsibility for protecting our planet, its environment, its population and generations to come. I took the idea with me as I travelled on to Glasgow and London and talked about it during a BBC interview. The Glasgow Catholic Worker become the first group to act of the idea, placing an order for a thousand badges. A trial printing of the badge has now been made here in Holland — I just picked up the first batch from our local Copy Center.
the Dutch-made Whole Earth badges
My modest proposal is that others, both organizations and individuals, take up this simple idea and make Whole Earth badges in quantity for wide distribution. Give them away if you can afford to — sell them at cost if you can’t. They’re not costly to manufacture and NASA photos are not under copyright. I dare to imagine many thousands of people wearing them before the year is far along. Jim Forest / [email protected] PS Here’s more about the photo I received while in prison plus a selection of quotations from astronauts who have seen the Whole Earth with their own eyes…
The Whole Earth in a Prison Cell
An album of Whole Earth photos: whole earth 1969 11 January 2019 www.jimandnancyforest.com

What it’s like to see the Whole Earth from space

A selection of quotations from astronauts, cosmonauts and others…

I really believe that if the political leaders of the world could see their planet from a distance of 100,000 miles their outlook could be fundamentally changed. That all-important border would be invisible, that noisy argument silenced. The tiny globe would continue to turn, serenely ignoring its subdivisions, presenting a unified facade that would cry out for unified understanding, for homogeneous treatment. The earth must become as it appears: blue and white, not capitalist or Communist; blue and white, not rich or poor; blue and white, not envious or envied.

— Michael Collins, Gemini 10 & Apollo 11 astronaut, Carrying the Fire: An Astronauts Journeys, 1974.

It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.

— Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11; first human being to walk on the Moon

Oddly enough the overriding sensation I got looking at the earth was, my god that little thing is so fragile out there.

— Mike Collins, Apollo 11 astronaut, interview for the 2007 movie In the Shadow of the Moon.

You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, “Look at that, you son of a bitch.”

— Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 astronaut, People magazine, 8 April 1974.

Suddenly, from behind the rim of the Moon, in long, slow-motion moments of immense majesty, there emerges a sparkling blue and white jewel, a light, delicate sky-blue sphere laced with slowly swirling veils of white, rising gradually like a small pearl in a thick sea of black mystery. It takes more than a moment to fully realize this is Earth … home.

— Edgar Mitchell

My view of our planet was a glimpse of divinity.

—  Edgar Mitchel, Apollo 14 astronaut, “The Way of the Explorer,” 1996.

What beauty. I saw clouds and their light shadows on the distant dear earth…. The water looked like darkish, slightly gleaming spots…. When I watched the horizon, I saw the abrupt, contrasting transition from the earth’s light-colored surface to the absolutely black sky. I enjoyed the rich color spectrum of the earth. It is surrounded by a light blue aureole that gradually darkens, becoming turquoise, dark blue, violet, and finally coal black.

— Yuri Gagarin, first Soviet cosmonaut

When you’re finally up at the moon looking back on earth, all those differences and nationalistic traits are pretty well going to blend, and you’re going to get a concept that maybe this really is one world and why the hell can’t we learn to live together like decent people.

— Frank Borman, Apollo 8, Newsweek magazine, 23 December 1968.

I think the one overwhelming emotion that we had was when we saw the earth rising in the distance over the lunar landscape … . It makes us realize that we all do exist on one small globe. For from 230,000 miles away it really is a small planet.

— Frank Borman, Apollo 8, press reports, 10 January 1969.

The view of the Earth from the Moon fascinated me—a small disk, 240,000 miles away. It was hard to think that that little thing held so many problems, so many frustrations. Raging nationalistic interests, famines, wars, pestilence don’t show from that distance.

— Frank Borman, Apollo 8, ‘A Science Fiction World—Awesome Forlorn Beauty,’ Life magazine, 17 January 1969.

[The Moon] was a sobering sight, but it didn’t have the impact on me, at least, as the view of the Earth did.

— Frank Borman, Apollo 8, Interview for the PBS TV show Nova, 1999.

It’s tiny out there…it’s inconsequential. It’s ironic that we had come to study the Moon and it was really discovering the Earth.

— Bill Anders, Apollo 8, quoted in the 2008 Discovery TV series When We Left Earth.

We learned a lot about the Moon, but what we really learned was about the Earth. The fact that just from the distance of the Moon you can put your thumb up and you can hide the Earth behind your thumb. Everything that you’ve ever known, your loved ones, your business, the problems of the Earth itself—all behind your thumb. And how insignificant we really all are, but then how fortunate we are to have this body and to be able to enjoy loving here amongst the beauty of the Earth itself.

— Jim Lovell, Apollo 8 & 13 astronaut, interview for the 2007 movie In the Shadow of the Moon.

This planet is not terra firma. It is a delicate flower and it must be cared for. It’s lonely. It’s small. It’s isolated, and there is no resupply. And we are mistreating it. Clearly, the highest loyalty we should have is not to our own country or our own religion or our hometown or even to ourselves. It should be to, number two, the family of man, and number one, the planet at large. This is our home, and this is all we’ve got.

— Scott Carpenter, Mecury 7 astronaut, speech at Millersville University, Pennslyvania. 15 October 1992.

If somebody’d said before the flight, “Are you going to get carried away looking at the earth from the moon?” I would have say, “No, no way.” But yet when I first looked back at the earth, standing on the moon, I cried.

— Alan Shepard

The world itself looks cleaner and so much more beautiful. Maybe we can make it that way—the way God intended it to be—by giving everybody that new perspective from out in space.

— Roger B Chaffee

It truly is an oasis—and we don’t take very good care of it. I think the elevation of that awareness is a real contribution to saving the Earth.

— Dave Scott, Apollo 9 & 15, interview for the 2007 movie In the Shadow of the Moon.

A Chinese tale tells of some men sent to harm a young girl who, upon seeing her beauty, become her protectors rather than her violators. That’s how I felt seeing the Earth for the first time. I could not help but love and cherish her.

—  Taylor Wang

As we got further and further away, the Earth diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man.

— James B. Irwin

No one, it has been said, will ever look at the Moon in the same way again. More significantly can one say that no one will ever look at the earth in the same way. Man had to free himself from earth to perceive both its diminutive place in a solar system and its inestimable value as a life -fostering planet. As earthmen, we may have taken another step into adulthood. We can see our planet earth with detachment, with tenderness, with some shame and pity, but at last also with love.

— Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Earth Shine, 1969.

The apologists for space science always seem over-impressed by engineering trivia and make far too much of non-stick frying pans and perfect ball-bearings. To my mind, the outstanding spin-off from space research is not new technology. The real bonus has been that for the first time in human history we have had a chance to look at the Earth from space, and the information gained from seeing from the outside our azure-green planet in all its global beauty has given rise to a whole new set of questions and answers.

— James Lovelock, Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, 1979.

How vast those Orbs must be, and how inconsiderable this Earth, the TheFor the first time in my life I saw the horizon as a curved line. It was accentuated by a thin seam of dark blue light—our atmosphere. Obviously this was not the ocean of air I had been told it was so many times in my life. I was terrified by its fragile appearance.

— Ulf Merbold.

It’s beyond imagination until you actually get up and see it and experience it and feel it.

— Willie McCool

It was a texture. The blackness was so intense.

— Charles Duke

Frequently on the lunar surface I said to myself, “This is the Moon, that is the Earth. I’m really here, I’m really here!

— Alan BeanWhat was most significant about the lunar voyage was not that man set foot on the Moon but that they set eye on the earth.

— Norman Cousins, Cosmic Search magazine, volume 1, number 1, January 1979.

Viewed from the distance of the moon, the astonishing thing about the earth, catching the breath, is that it is alive. The photographs show the dry, pounded surface of the moon in the foreground, dry as an old bone. Aloft, floating free beneath the moist, gleaming, membrane of bright blue sky, is the rising earth, the only exuberant thing in this part of the cosmos.

— Lewis Thomas, The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher, 1974.

If I’d been born in space, I would desire to visit the beautiful Earth more than to visit space. It’s a wonderful planet.

— David Brown

It’s the abject smallness of the earth that gets you.

— Stuart Roosa, Apollo 14 astronaut, quoted in Rocket Men, 2009.

Man, I tell you, this is worth waiting 16 years for!

—  Deke Slayton, Apollo-Soyuz Test Project astronaut, regards finally getting his first view of the Earth from space. Deke was selected in the first Mercury Seven astronaut class but was grounded for years due to a heart murmur. 15 July 1975.

A tear-drop of green.

— Ron McNair, physicist and NASA astronaut on viewing the Earth from the Space Shuttle, Newsweek magazine, 10 February 1986.

Never in all their history have men been able truly to conceive of the world as one: a single sphere, a globe, having the qualities of a globe, a round earth in which all the directions eventually meet, in which there is no center because every point, or none, is center — an equal earth which all men occupy as equals. The airman’s earth, if free men make it, will be truly round: a globe in practice, not in theory.

— Archibald MacLeish, ‘The Image of Victory,’ commencement address, Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts, May 1942, later published in A Time to Act, 1943.

To see the earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves a riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold—brothers who know now they are truly brothers.

— Archibald MacLeish, American poet, ‘Riders on earth together, Brothers in eternal cold,’ front page of the New York Times, Christmas Day, 25 December 1968.

When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.

— John Muir, Travels in Alaska, 1915.

Amid this vast and overwhelming space and in these boundless solar archipelagoes, how small is our own sphere, and the earth, what a grain of sand!

— Hippolyte Taine, The Ancient Regime, 1881.

That the sky is brighter than the earth means little unless the earth itself is appreciated and enjoyed. Its beauty loved gives the right to aspire to the radiance of the sunrise and sunset.

— Helen Keller, My Religion, 1927.

There is perhaps no better a demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.

— Carl Sagan, Professor of Astronomy at Cornell University, regards the view of Earth from space, Time magazine, 9 January 1995.

Look again at that dot. That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

— Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, 1994.

My mental boundaries expanded when I viewed the Earth against a black and uninviting vacuum, yet my country’s rich traditions had conditioned me to look beyond man-made boundaries and prejudices. One does not have to undertake a space flight to come by this feeling.

— Rakesh Sharma

Now I know why I’m here. Not for a closer look at the moon, but to look back at our home, the Earth.

— Alfred Worden

Looking outward to the blackness of space, sprinkled with the glory of a universe of lights, I saw majesty—but no welcome. Below was a welcoming planet. There, contained in the thin, moving, incredibly fragile shell of the biosphere is everything that is dear to you, all the human drama and comedy. That’s where life is; that’s were all the good stuff is.

—  Loren Acton

I left Earth three times and found no other place to go. Please take care of Spaceship Earth.

—  Wally Schirra, 1998.

To fly in space is to see the reality of Earth, alone. The experience changed my life and my attitude toward life itself. I am one of the lucky ones.

— Roberta Bondar, Space Shuttle: The First 20 Years.

The world looks marvelous from up here, so peaceful, so wonderful and so fragile. Everybody, all of us down there, not only in Israel, have to keep it clean and good.

— Israeli Air Force Col. Ilan Ramon, 29 January 2003.

The Earth was small, light blue, and so touchingly alone, our home that must be defended like a holy relic. The Earth was absolutely round. I believe I never knew what the word round meant until I saw Earth from space.

—  Aleksei Leonov

The colors are stunning. In a single view, I see – looking out at the edge of the earth: red at the horizon line, blending to orange and yellow, followed by a thin white line, then light blue, gradually turning to dark blue and various gradually darker shades of gray, then black and a million stars above. It’s breathtaking.

— Willie McCool

We were flying over America and suddenly I saw snow, the first snow we ever saw from orbit. I have never visited America, but I imagined that the arrival of autumn and winter is the same there as in other places, and the process of getting ready for them is the same. And then it struck me that we are all children of our Earth.

— Aleksandr Aleksandrov

The scenery was very beautiful. But I did not see the Great Wall.

— Yang Liwei, China’s first astronaut (or ‘yuhangyuan’), 15 October 2003.

As I looked down, I saw a large river meandering slowly along for miles, passing from one country to another without stopping. I also saw huge forests, extending along several borders. And I watched the extent of one ocean touch the shores of separate continents. Two words leaped to mind as I looked down on all this: commonality and interdependence. We are one world.

— John-David Bartoe

Once during the mission I was asked by ground control what I could see. “What do I see?” I replied. “Half a world to the left, half a world to the right, I can see it all. The Earth is so small.”

— Vitali Sevastyanov

For those who have seen the Earth from space, and for the hundreds and perhaps thousands more who will, the experience most certainly changes your perspective. The things that we share in our world are far more valuable than those which divide us.

— Donald Williams

My first view — a panorama of brilliant deep blue ocean, shot with shades of green and gray and white — was of atolls and clouds. Close to the window I could see that this Pacific scene in motion was rimmed by the great curved limb of the Earth. It had a thin halo of blue held close, and beyond, black space. I held my breath, but something was missing — I felt strangely unfulfilled. Here was a tremendous visual spectacle, but viewed in silence. There was no grand musical accompaniment; no triumphant, inspired sonata or symphony. Each one of us must write the music of this sphere for ourselves.

— Charles Walker

We went to the Moon as technicians; we returned as humanitarians.

— Edgar Mitchell

The first day or so we all pointed to our countries. The third or fourth day we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day, we were aware of only one Earth.

— Sultan bin Salman Al-Saud

If the space age had opened new ways of seeing mere matter, though, it has also fostered a strange return to something reminiscent of the pre-Copernican universe. The life that Lowell and his like expected elsewhere has not appeared, and so the Earth has become unique again. The now-iconic image of a blue-white planet floating in space, or hanging over the deadly deserts of the moon, reinforces the Earth isolation and specialness. And it is this exceptionalism that drives the current scientific thirst for finding life elsewhere, for finding a cosmic mainstream of animation, even civilization, in which the Earth can take its place. It is both wonderful and unsettling to live on a planet that is unique.

— Oliver Morton, A Point of Warlike Light, 2002.

Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from the outside, is available, a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.

— attributed to Sir Fred Hoyle, 1948.

atre upon which all our mighty Designs, all our Navigations, and all our Wars are transacted, is when compared to them. A very fit consideration, and matter of Reflection, for those Kings and Princes who sacrifice the Lives of so many People, only to flatter their Ambition in being Masters of some pitiful corner of this small Spot.

— Christiaan Huygens, The Immense Distance Between the Sun and the Planets, 1698,

We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the earth.

— William Anders

* * *

Living with a Whole Earth photo can be life changing. Think about making a print and hanging it in your living room or prayer corner. There is a selection of whole Earth photos here::

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/albums/72157628589821441

How about going to a local copy center and having 50 or more badges made for friends and colleagues or members of your parish, synagogue or temple? Give them away or sell them at cost. 

a modest proposal: wear a Whole Earth photo

One of the important events of my life was receiving, while imprisoned for an anti-war protest, an original print  of a NASA photograph of the Earth taken on the 16th of July 1969. It arrived shortly after the safe return of the Apollo 11 crew following their successful moon landing. This stunning image immediately became the main decoration of my cell and, 50 years later, is here in our living room. I often carry a laminated print of the photo with me when I have a lecture to give and pass it around, commenting that this small planet is home address of all of us.

A Dutch-made example. It’s 5 cm wide.

It was with me when I spoke in Edinburgh recently. Out of the blue came an idea: I suggested that wearing a badge with a Whole Earth photo on it would be an excellent way to tunnel under ideological and political barriers that so often divide us in this ultra-polarized time — an image without words or slogans, as silent and prayer-inspiring as an icon. It’s not a me-versus-you emblem. It simultaneously challenges both ourselves and others to take greater responsibility for protecting our planet, its environment, its population and generations to come.

I took the idea with me as I travelled on to Glasgow and London and talked about it during a BBC interview. The Glasgow Catholic Worker  become the first group to act of the idea, placing an order for a thousand badges. A trial printing of the badge has now been made here in Holland — I just picked up the second batch from our local Copy Center.

It’s a grassroots initiative. My modest proposal is that others, both organizations and individuals, take up this simple idea and make Whole Earth badges in quantity for local distribution. Here in Alkmaar I did this by taking the above photo to a local copy center where they have so far made me a hundred 5 cm badges at one euro each. See if you can do something similar. You might start out with fifty or a hundred. . Give them away if you can afford to or sell them at cost if you can’t. They’re not expensive to manufacture and NASA photos are not under copyright.

I dare to imagine many thousands of people wearing them before the year is far along.

Jim Forest / [email protected]

PS Here’s more about the photo I received while in prison plus a selection of quotations from astronauts who have seen the Whole Earth with their own eyes…

Also online, an album of Whole Earth photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/albums/72157628589821441

whole earth 1969

11 January 2019

www.jimandnancyforest.com

Peacemaking: an aspiration not an achievement

an interview with Alfred Hassler

Alfred Hassler (1910-1991) was one of the major figures in the Fellowship of Reconciliation. In prison during World War II as a conscientious objector, he joined the FOR staff and went on to serve as editor of the Fellowship magazine and later as FOR executive secretary and general secretary of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. He was interviewed by Jim Forest and Diane Leonetti on the occasion of his retirement in 1974.

Al Hassler with grandson Daniel

Leonetti: Al, perhaps you could start by trying to remember how you became a pacifist?

It was during the Depression. Everybody was aware of that war was coming. In the summer of 1939 I was teaching a course on Christianity and peace at a Baptist conference in Pennsylvania. The war was so imminent I recall telling the class that we might not ever see one another again.

Somewhere in that period, my thinking returned from antiwar to pacifist. I can’t recall just when. It just evolved. I never read anything that did it. No one converted me. It was no flash of light on the road to Damascus. But suddenly I was a pacifist. And then I became president of the Baptist Pacifist Fellowship before I even heard of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

Forest: Many people think of themselves as post-World War II pacifists. They imagine that, had they been of military age before Hiroshima, they might have been volunteers in the war against Hitler. World War II, in their minds, was the last just war. Yet you became a pacifist before the war and you remained a pacifist throughout. Wasn’t that difficult?

Being a pacifist during World War II was difficult, and it has been ever since. Unquestionably the things that Hitler and the Nazis were doing were evil, unqualifiedly evil. It is still difficult to respond of the question, “What would you do about Hitler?”

But we pacifists were talking about the reasons World War II would happen well before it began — out of Versailles, out of all the inequities, out of the ringing of Germany with steel by the Allies, out of the refusal of the Allies to live up to their treaty agreements, out of the refusal to disarm — out of all that we saw a national paranoia being created in Germany that inevitably would produce a Hitler-like leader.

We didn’t know any way to prevent the war once Hitler was in power. But the pragmatic evidence is that we pacifists saved more Jews from Hitler than was saved by any army. Remember the Holocaust began after the war started. Jews were being persecuted and driven out of the country. Their property was being taken. But the mass murder didn’t begin until the war was underway. Even then pacifists in Europe continued to be at the core of efforts to hide Jews and smuggle them to safety.

The analysis that pacifists made about the factors driving us toward war proved quite accurate, but we were powerless to put into effect the recommendation which might have prevented war.

You know in some ways it was easier being a pacifist than then it has been during the Vietnam War. In World War II we knew we were powerless. We never thought we could end the war once it began. All we could do was argue for a war without victory rather than the unconditional surrender the governments demanded. We were supporting conscientious objectors. We were rescuing the victims of the Nazis. In this country we were bringing in as many Jews as the government would allow — which tragically weren’t very many. We were never under the delusion that we have the political power to stop the war. But during the Vietnam War the peace movement thought it did have that power, and people in it became infinitely more frustrating.

Forest: Are you glad you went to prison?

Sure. I wouldn’t want to do it again, but I’m glad they sent me where they did. Conscientious objectors were mainly sent to Danbury or Sandstone federal prisons. But I was appalled at the thought of being locked up for years with a bunch of conscientious objectors! (laughter) So when they went sent me to Lewisburg, a maximum-security prison with only thirty conscientious injectors among a prison population of thirteen hundred, I was delighted as well as a little frightened. But it was an experience I had practically lusted after and I was very glad to go. I learned a great deal.

I was naïve about going to prison. You know my family were all law-and-order people. They weren’t the kind that wanted to see cops attacking people, but they took it for granted that no good person ever went to prison. It was very contradictory because we were always going on about St. Paul and St. Peter and all those early Christians who were always in prison. But not in the United States! Their idea was, I think, that had Jesus been in America, he wouldn’t have gone to prison and wouldn’t have been crucified.

Forest: You remind me of a postcard message I received from Thich Nhat Hanh while I was in prison, something very brief: “Do you remember the tangerine we ate when we were together? Eat it and be one with it. Tomorrow it will be no more.” It gave me encouragement and helped me approach prison in a nonconfrontational way — to take the experience bite by bite.

And day by day.

I hadn’t thought about it before but one of the reasons for wanting to be in a maximum-security prison rather than with a lot of conscientious objectors was my own aversion to sitting around talking with people who were doing time for the same reason. In a maximum-security prison, where you are surrounded by conventional prisoners, you would findw a conscientious objector out in the playing field surrounded by twenty or thirty non-conscientious objectors just talking.

We got so involved in other people’s problems that we didn’t have time to brood on our own problems. And that was a good thing.

Forest: What made you decide to join the FOR staff after you left prison?

I decided I would work in the peace movement for five years and then go back to advertising and journalism and make a good living from family. But I never did.

What I really wanted to be was a writer. I didn’t want to be a peace executive. There were times when I thought I was the only one in the on the FOR staff who didn’t want to be executive secretary. (laughter)

Leonetti: I was wondering how the shape of the pacifist movement has changed since you’ve been in it?

In some ways it hasn’t changed at all and other ways it is changed drastically. Both bother me.

It hasn’t changed much in its individualism. We lack discipline. We won’t focus our collective efforts are one or two or three things at a time. Our members employ a few program people and support staff and saddle them with the expectation that they can do twenty or thirty major efforts and have some effect. Our efforts are too diffuse. There is a touching faith on the part of our members that their staff can do anything — and an almost reprehensible feeling on the staff’s part that they should do everything. There is, as yet, no sense of a coherent program on which we pacifists can unite in the interest of accomplishing a few things, even if not in the order each of us might privately prefer.

The other change in the peace movement is that there is now a great deal more sophistication regarding the complexities that are involved in the search for peace. We no longer assume history is made only in the United States and Europe. We know, in fact, that it is more likely to be made in the poverty-stricken countries which are the breeding ground of conflict. We know that peace isn’t to be achieved with declarations and treaties — it runs much deeper than that.

There is still a good many people who want simplified answers, who went to find a magic button that will make everything okay again. We get the feeling that if only we did the right thing, worked a little bit harder, we would achieve what is needed.

There is more sophistication now, by and large — but more despair as well.

Forest: What about the FOR’s name? “Fellowship” seems to be an archaic religious term and “reconciliation” an archaic political goal. If you could, would you change the FOR’s name, or any part of it?

No, though I detested the name myself when I first joined the staff. I came out of a religious setting in which “fellowship” was used as a verb. There was always talk about “fellowshipping together.”  For me it was like running your fingernails down a blackboard. And “reconciliation” seemed a weak word. But the words don’t bother me anymore. I’ve become very attached to them.

It seems to me the essence of the pacifist position is not the refusal to kill or to be part of any army but the very positive concept of a human society that is familial in nature. The human family. We are all interrelated. We humans are a fellowship.

And “reconciliation” has become, for me, very strong word. It doesn’t mean tolerating justice or the status quo. It does mean finding a common denominator between and among people of vastly different backgrounds and natures and possessions and all the rest.

Forest: Perhaps nothing has been more important than your work these past eight or ten years than the Vietnamese Buddhists and the nonviolent movements that has come out of their faith and suffering. I’ve heard you call yourself a “Baptist Buddhist.” Do you mean it?

There are two things crucial to me about the Buddhists, or perhaps I should say Thich Nhat Hanh’s interpretation of Buddhism, which is been my main source of learning. One is the rejection of an arbitrary claim to knowledge of total truth.

I vividly recall what Thich Nhat Hanh said to a young woman in Santa Barbara who asked him what it meant to seek the Buddha and what happens when you find him. Nhat Hanh answered, “I am a Zen master — and, as you know, Zen masters always reply incomprehensibly. So I will say that you only find the Buddha by killing the Buddha whenever you find him.” Then he laughed and said, “But I am a nice Zen master, so I will tell you that the Buddha is truth and the only thing that keeps you from finding truth is your conviction that you have already found it. So whenever you find truth, you must recognize it is a lie, ‘kill’ it, and go on in the search for truth.”

This is quite different from the idea that many Christians cling to — that they have a revealed truth, final and eternal, that you can’t deviate from.

The thing about such Buddhists as Thich Nhat Hanh is their openness to ideas and insights of other people, other faiths, whether religious, political, or whatever. They don’t think they have a monopoly on truth. It is this sort of openness that draws me. In the past they took things from Confucianism and Taoism. They took what seemed good into their own faith, as they are now taking things from Christianity.

Forest: Earlier you mentioned that there is more sophistication in the peace movement now about the complexity of the problems we face. You added that there is also more despair. I know I sense this very much in this society. We know that certain things are wrong. We know the consequences will be disastrous. We wish to resist. We want to help form constructive alternatives. But we haven’t got the hope that makes response and resistance possible.

I agree. I’m tempted to say it was always that way, but that’s not adequate. When I was chairman of the housing cooperative in which we still live, I used to say, “During the day I work at writing tracts about how atomic bombs are about to destroy the world — and then I come home and talk with people about thirty-year mortgages!”

The problem of despair, I think, hits Americans harder than other people because we have been conditioned by two centuries of overcoming physical obstacles and enriching ourselves in the process, never encountering insoluble problems. Now we encounter problems that can’t be solved.

Our situation is vastly different from that of people in Europe and Indochina, people who have experienced defeat upon defeat in recent memory and have developed what some Europeans call a “theology of despair,” which is just another way of saying a theology of the cross.

One FOR member in Europe used to say, “You Americans think that the kingdom of God is coming on earth  through your work. We know that it is not. We have been through Hitler and the war.”

Personally, I can’t accept despair as some sort of basis. Despair may well be a self-fulfilling prophecy. You get so despairing about the human prospect that you have no energy find solutions.

The reason there is so much despair, I think, is because of our inability to find handles for the various problems we face — ways of grabbing hold of the things in order to solve them. They’re so complex, so interrelated, so massive. People don’t see much relevance in doing small things. Why set up a day care center — or try to improve housing — or even have a child — if the world is about to blow itself up? Each person has to find a personal solution to that

A.J. Muste used to say, “All the really great things in history came as a surprise. Nobody predicted them.”

The grounds for hope are there but are terribly hard to see.

Do you remember FOR’s China campaign in 1954 and ’55? There’s a story we haven’t told very often because it was told to us in great confidence. But that was nearly twenty years ago.

There was a famine in China, extremely grave. We urged people to send President Eisenhower small sacks of grain provided by the FOR with a message, “If your enemy hunger, feed him. Send surplus food to China.” The surplus food, in fact, was never sent. On the surface our project was an utter failure. But then quite by accident we learned from someone on Eisenhower’s press staff that our campaign was discussed at three separate cabinet meetings. Also discussed at each of these meetings was a recommendation from the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the United States bomb mainland China in response to the Quemoy-Matsu crisis. [Quemoy and Matsu, islands off the east coast of China still occupied by Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Chinese forces after the 1949 civil war on the mainland, were the site of a major confrontation between the Republic of China and Mao Tse-tung’s People’s Republic of China.] At the third meeting the president turn to a cabinet member responsible for the Food for Peace program and asked, “How many of those grain bags have come in?” The answer was 45,000, plus tens of thousands of letters. Eisenhower’s response was that if that many Americans were trying to find a conciliatory solution with China, it wasn’t the time to bomb China. This proposal was vetoed.

Leonetti: And you learn that only by pure chance?

Pure chance! That’s the point. You do something and seem to fail —but in the process of failure you sometimes accomplish something else quite unexpected, something of greater importance.

History is full of esoteric little groups that live by themselves and, regardless of whatever happens outside, carry on with that particular witness and commitment. Pacifist do that in one sense. FOR members are a minute portion of the world’s population. We strengthen and reinforce each other as best we can. But there’s another element to it. We really do have massive world problems and by our very best judgment they can wipe out civilization and the human race.

Perhaps this is exaggerated. They say others have said this before all through history. I reply that particular civilizations have been wiped out before, that ours is the first period in in history in which a global civilization has existed as well as the means of global destruction. When this civilization is wiped out, there won’t be another to take its place. Not on this planet.

Now we have a handful of people motivated to go on working despite hopelessness. But if we want to motivate a constituency large enough to effect the things that are necessary, then there has to be hope there, something to see and work toward, a belief that it can be achieved.

Forest: How do you inspire that?

I wish I knew.

Forest: At the recent FOR national conference in Wisconsin, you talked about the word “love” — a discredited word to many people. How do you locate that word in the vocabulary of peacemaking?

For a long time we tried to point out that there were different kinds of love — agape, eros, etcetera — but that really doesn’t come across to most people. When you talk about love, people think of a very intimate sort of relationship, but that’s manifestly impossible with each of the billions of people alive today  — or even the one person who is doing something extraordinary destructive in your view.

It seems to me that the three elements that are essential to an understanding of love are compassion, humility and understanding. Compassion in the sense of awareness, sensitivity and understanding of other persons and their weaknesses, even the ones you think are very strong — their mortality, their limitations, the fact that they suffer in ways we don’t know about or understand — and humility in understanding just have narrow is the gap between people we regard as morally good — ourselves! — and the people whom we regard as morally bad — the ones who oppose us.

Milton Mayer has written about a Quaker meeting for worship at which A.J. Muste stood up and said, “If I can’t love Hitler, I can’t love at all.” This statement became almost an obsession with Milton as he dug deeper and deeper into it. You can’t get anywhere with it unless you realize that love means understanding and compassion — then it opens up. Compassion, not in the sense of lessening your opposition to Hitler and what he is doing, but compassion for a man who clearly had suffered terribly, who was terribly distorted, who had so little real happiness and joy.

The equivalent for us would be to say, “If I can I love Richard Nixon, I cannot love at all.”

Again, love means understanding and compassion. You only have to look at one of the hundreds of recent pictures of Nixon to see the suffering that he’s going through, a suffering that he probably doesn’t yet understand — a man who doesn’t understand himself, his personality, or the reaction of people to him; a man who really feels that he was right, that he is being persecuted. You can only feel sorry for him. You can only feel compassion.

That’s the essence of pacifism for me. The realization that we are, as it’s put in the New Testament, all sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God. We have no right to be self-righteous, but only to be pitying, compassionate, helpful.

Of course we fail at this all the time. Pacifism is an aspiration, not an achievement. As one of the best pacifists I know — Cao Ngoc Phuong — put it, when asked if she were a pacifist: “Not yet.”

* * *

Somewhere in that period, my thinking returned from antiwar to pacifist. I can’t recall just when. It just evolved. I never read anything that did it. No one converted me. It was no flash of light on the road to Damascus. But suddenly I was a pacifist. And then I became president of the Baptist Pacifist Fellowship before I even heard of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

Forest: Many people think of themselves as post-World War II pacifists. They imagine that, had they been of military age before Hiroshima, they might have been volunteers in the war against Hitler. World War II, in their minds, was the last just war. Yet you became a pacifist before the war and you remained a pacifist throughout. Wasn’t that difficult?

Been a pacifist during World War II was difficult, and it has been ever since. Unquestionably the things that Hitler and the Nazis were doing were evil, unqualifiedly evil. It is still difficult to respond of the question, “What would you do about Hitler?”

But we pacifists were talking about the reasons World War II would happen well before it began. Out of Versailles, out of all the inequities, out of the ringing of Germany with steel by the Allies, out of the refusal of the Allies to live up to their treaty agreements, out of the refusal to disarm — out of all that we saw a national paranoia being created in Germany that inevitably would produce a Hitler-like leader.

We didn’t know any way to prevent the war once Hitler was in power. But the pragmatic evidence is that we pacifists saved more Jews from Hitler than was saved by any army. Remember the Holocaust began after the war started. Jews were being persecuted and driven out of the country. Their property was being taken. But the mass murder didn’t begin until the war was underway. Even then pacifists in Europe continued to be at the core of efforts to hide Jews and smuggle them to safety.

The analysis that pacifists made about the factors driving us toward war proved quite accurate, but we were powerless to put into effect the recommendation which might have prevented war.

You know in some ways it was easier being a pacifist than then it has been during the Vietnam War. In World War II we knew we were powerless. We never thought we could end the war once it began. All we could do was argue for a war without victory rather than the unconditional surrender the governments demanded. We were supporting conscientious objectors. We were rescuing the victims of the Nazis. In this country we were bringing in as many Jews as the government would allow — which tragically weren’t very many. We were never under the delusion that we have the political power to stop the war. But during the Vietnam War the peace movement thought it did have that power, and people in it became infinitely more frustrating.

Forest: Are you glad you went to prison?

Sure. I wouldn’t want to do it again, but I’m glad they sent me where they did. Conscientious objectors were mainly sent to Danbury or Sandstone federal prisons. But I was appalled at the thought of being locked up for years with a bunch of conscientious objectors! (laughter) So when they went sent me to Lewisburg, a maximum security prison with only 30 conscientious injectors among a prison population of 1300, I was delighted as well as a little frightened. But it was an experience I had practically lusted after and I was very glad to go. I learned a great deal.

I was naïve about going to prison. You know my family were all law-and-order people. They weren’t the kind that wanted to see cops attacking people, but they took it for granted that no good person ever went to prison. It was very contradictory because we were always going on about St. Paul in St. Peter and all those early Christians who were always in prison. But not in the United States! The idea was, I think, that had Jesus been in America, he wouldn’t have gone to prison and wouldn’t have been crucified.

Forest: You remind me of a postcard message I received from Thich Nhat Hanh while I was in prison, something very brief: “Do you remember the tangerine we ate when we were together? Eat it and be one with it. Tomorrow it will be no more.” It helped me immensely to find some encouragement and approach prison in a nonconfrontational way — to take the experience bite by bite.

And day by day.

I hadn’t thought about it before but one of the reasons for wanting to be in a maximum security prison rather than with a lot of conscientious objectors was my own aversion to sitting around talking with people doing time for the same reason. In a maximum security prison, where you are surrounded by conventional defenders, you can see a conscientious objector out in the playing field surrounded by 20 or 30 non-conscientious objectives just talking.

We got so involved in other people’s problems that we didn’t have time do brewed on our own problems. And that was a good thing.

Forest: What made you decide to join the FOR staff after you left prison?

I decided I would work in the peace movement for five years and then go back to advertising and journalism and make a good living from family. But I never did.

What I really wanted to be was a writer. I didn’t want to be a peace executive. There were times when I thought I was the only one in the on the FRO staff who didn’t want to be executive secretary. (laughter)

Leonetti: I was wondering how the shape of the pacifist movement has changed since you’ve been in it?

In some ways it hasn’t changed at all, and other ways it is changed drastically. Both bother me.

It hasn’t changed much in its individualism. We lack discipline. We won’t focus our collective efforts are one or two or three things at a time. Our members employ a few program people and support staff and saddle them with the expectation that they can do 20 or 30 major efforts and have some effect. Our efforts are too diffuse. There is a touching faith on the part of our members that their staff can do anything — and an almost reprehensible feeling on the staff’s part that they should do everything. There is, as yet, no sense of a coherent program on which we pacifists can unite in the interest of accomplishing a few things, even if not in the order each of us might privately prefer.

The other change in the peace movement is that there is now a great deal more sophistication regarding the complexities that are involved in the search for peace. We no longer assume history is made only in the United States and Europe. We know, in fact, that it is more likely to be made in the poverty-stricken countries which are the breeding ground of conflict. We know that peace isn’t to be achieved with declarations and treaties — it runs much deeper than that.

There is still a good many people who want simplified answers, who went to find a magic button that will make everything okay again. We get the feeling that if only we did the right thing, worked a little bit harder, we would achieve what is needed.

There is more sophistication now, by and large — but more despair as well.

Forest: What about the FOR’s name? “Fellowship” seems to be an archaic religious term and “reconciliation” an archaic political goal. If you could, would you change the FOR’s name, or any part of it?

No, though I detested the name myself when I first joined the staff. I came out of a religious setting in which “fellowship” was used as a verb. There was always talk about “fellowshipping together.”  For me it was like running your fingernails down a blackboard. And “reconciliation” seemed a weak word. But the words don’t bother me anymore. I’ve become very attached to them.

It seems to me the essence of the pacifist position is not the refusal to kill or to be part of any army but the very positive concept of a human society that is familial in nature. The human family. We are all interrelated. We humans are a fellowship.

And reconciliation has become, for me, very strong word. It doesn’t mean tolerating justice or the status quo. It does mean finding a common denominator between and among people of vastly different backgrounds and natures and possessions and all the rest.

Forest: Perhaps nothing has been more important than your work these past eight or ten years than the Vietnamese Buddhists and the nonviolent movements that has come out of their faith and suffering. I’ve heard you call yourself a “Baptist Buddhist” every now and then. Do you mean it?

There are two things crucial to me about the Buddhists, or perhaps I should say Thich Nhat Hanh’s interpretation of Buddhism, which is been my main source of learning. One is the rejection of an arbitrary claim to knowledge of total truth.

I vividly recall what Thich Nhat Hanh said to a young woman in Santa Barbara who asked him what it meant to seek the Buddha and what happens when you find him. Nhat Hanh answered, “I am a Zen master — and, as you know, Zen masters always reply incomprehensibly. So I will say that you only find the Buddha by killing the Buddha whenever you find him.” Then he laughed and said, “But I am a nice Zen master, so I will tell you that the Buddha is truth and the only thing that keeps you from finding truth is your conviction that you have already found it. So whenever you find truth, you must recognize it is a lie, ‘kill’ it, and go on in the search for truth.”

This is quite different from the idea that many Christians cling to — that they have a revealed truth, final and eternal, that you can’t deviate from.

The thing about such Buddhists as Thich Nhat Hanh is their openness to ideas and insights of other people, other faiths, whether religious, political, or whatever. They don’t think they have a monopoly on truth.

It is this sort of openness that draws me. In the past they took things from Confucianism and Taoism. They took what seemed good into their own faith, as they are now taking things from Christianity.

Forest: Earlier you mentioned that there is more sophistication in the peace movement now about the complexity of the problems we face. You added that there is also more despair. I know I sense this very much in this society. We know that certain things are wrong. We know the consequences will be disastrous. We wish to resist. We want to help form constructive alternatives. But we haven’t got the hope that makes response and resistance possible.

I agree. I’m tempted to say it was always that way, but that’s not adequate. When I was chairman of the housing cooperative in which we still live, how used to say, “During the day I work at writing tracts about how atomic bombs are about to in the world — and then I come home and talk with people about thirty-year mortgages!”

The problem of despair, I think, hits Americans harder than other people because we have been conditioned by two centuries of overcoming physical obstacles and enriching ourselves in the process, never encountering insoluble problems. Now we encounter problems that can’t be solved.

Our situation is vastly different from that of people in Europe and Indochina, people who have experienced defeat upon defeat in recent memory and have developed what some Europeans call a “theology of despair,” which is just another way of saying a theology of the cross.

One FOR member in Europe used to say, “You Americans think that the kingdom of God is coming on earth  through your work. We know that it is not. Have been through Hitler and the war.”

Personally, I can’t accept despair as some sort of basis. Despair may well be a self-fulfilling prophecy. You get so despairing about the human prospect that you have no energy find solutions.

The reason there is so much despair, I think, is because of our inability to find handles for the various problems we face — ways of grabbing hold of the things in order to solve them. They’re so complex, so interrelated, so massive. People don’t see much relevance in doing small things.

Why set up a day care center — or try to improve housing — or even have a child — if the world is about to blow itself up?

Each person has to find a personal solution to that

A.J. Muste used to say, “All the really great things in history came as a surprise. Nobody predicted them.”

The grounds for hope are there but are terribly hard to see.

Do you remember FOR’s China campaign in 1954 and ’55? There’s a story we haven’t told very often because it was told to us in great confidence. But that was nearly twenty years ago.

There was a famine in China, extremely grave. We urged people to send Pres. Eisenhower small sacks of grain provided by the FOR with a message, “If your enemy hunger, feed him. Send surplus food to China.” The surplus food, in fact, was never sent. On the surface the project was an utter failure.

But then quite by accident we learned from someone staff on Eisenhower’s press staff that our campaign was discussed at three separate cabinet meetings. Also discussed at each of these meetings was a recommendation from the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the United States bomb mainland China in response to the Quemoy-Matsu crisis. [Quemoy and Matsu, islands off the east coast of China still occupied by Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Chinese forces after the 1949 civil war on the mainland, were the site of a major confrontation between the Republic of China and Mao Tse-tung’s People’s Republic of China.] At the third meeting the president turn to a cabinet member responsible for the Food for Peace program and asked, “How many people do those grain bags had come in?” The answer was 45,000, plus tens of thousands of letters. Eisenhower’s response was that if that many Americans were trying to find a conciliatory solution with China, it wasn’t the time to bomb China. This proposal was vetoed.

Leonetti: And you learn that only by pure chance?

Pure chance! That’s the point. You do something and seem to fail —but in the process of failure you sometimes accomplish something else quite unexpected, something of greater importance.

History is full of esoteric little groups that live by themselves and, regardless of whatever happens outside, carry on with that particular witness and commitment. Pacifist do that in one sense. FOR members are a minute portion of the world’s population, and we strengthen and reinforce each other as best we can. But there’s another element to it. We really do have massive world problems and by our very best judgment they can wipe out civilization and the human race.

Perhaps this is exaggerated. They say others have said this before all through history. I reply that particular civilizations have been wiped out before, that ours is the first period in in history in which a global civilization has existed as well as the means of global destruction. When this civilization is wiped out, there won’t be another to take its place. Not on this planet.

Now we have a handful of people motivated to go on working despite hopelessness. But if we want to motivate a constituency large enough to affect the things that are necessary, then there has to be hope there, something to see and work toward, a belief that it can be achieved.

Forest: How do you inspire that?

I wish I knew.

Forest: At the recent FOR national conference in Wisconsin, you talked about the word “love” — a discredited word to many people. How do you locate that word in the vocabulary of peacemaking?

For a long time we tried to point out that there were different kinds of love — agape, eros, etc. — but that really doesn’t come across to most people. When you talk about love, people think of a very intimate sort of relationship, but that’s manifestly impossible with each of the billions of people alive today  — or even the one person who doing something extraordinary destructive in your view.

It seems to me that the three elements that are essential to an understanding of love, as we talk about it, are compassion, humility and understanding. Compassion in the sense of awareness, sensitivity and understanding of other persons and their weaknesses, even the ones you think are very strong. Their mortality, their limitations — the fact that they suffer in ways we don’t know about or understand. And humility in understanding just how narrow is the gap between people we regard as morally good — ourselves! — and the people whom we regard as morally bad — the ones who oppose us.

Milton Mayer has written about a Quaker meeting for worship in which A.J. Muste stood up and said, “If I can’t love Hitler, I can’t love at all.” This statement became almost an obsession with Milton as he dug deeper and deeper into it.

You can’t get anywhere with it unless you realize that love means understanding and compassion — then it opens up. Compassion, not in the sense of lessening your opposition to Hitler and what he is doing, but compassion for a man who clearly had suffered terribly, who was terribly distorted, who had so little real happiness and joy.

The equivalent for us would be to say, “If I can I love Richard Nixon, I cannot love at all.”

Again, love means understanding  and compassion. You only have to look at one of the hundreds of recent pictures of the man to see the suffering that he’s going through, a suffering that he probably doesn’t yet understand — a man who doesn’t understand himself, his personality, or the reaction of people to him; a man who really feels that he was right, that he is being persecuted. You can only feel sorry for him. You can only feel compassion.

That’s the essence of pacifism for me. The realization that we are, as it’s put in the New Testament, all sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God. We have no right to be self-righteous, but only to be pitying, compassionate, helpful.

Of course we fail at this all the time. Pacifism is an aspiration, not an achievement. As one of the best pacifists I know — Cao Ngoc Phuong — put it, when asked if she were a pacifist: “Not yet.”

* * *

No Room

detail of Brueghel the Elder’s painting of “The Census at Bethelehem”, 1566

Brueghel the Elder’s “The Census at Bethlehem” was painted in our part of the world in 1566 and provides a window on 16th century life in the Low Countries.

An unhaloed, blue-robed Mary is in the center. In the actual painting she is easily overlooked, just another figure in this densely-populated canvas. She is riding a donkey — the donkey plus her blue robe provide the only iconographic clues to who she is, just as the saw Joseph is carrying over his left shoulder reminds us of his identity: a hard-working carpenter who, even while in a town a long way from Nazareth, is prepared to earn his living. We know the story. They’re here to be counted. For purposes of taxation, Caesar Augustus in distant Rome has ordered a census and this requires each husband, with his family, go to his home town even if he has become a stranger there and even if the timing couldn’t be worse. Mary is in the final days — in fact the final hours — of her pregnancy. It’s notable that there is no one to welcome them. In fact no one notices them. They’re alone in the crowd. Joseph will soon be knocking on doors seeking a room and will regard himself as lucky to be allowed use of a cave on the edge of town where domestic animals are sheltered. After the birth of their child, shepherds summoned by angels will be the only ones to congratulate Mary and Joseph for the birth of their heaven-marked son.

In our time, when so many have been made refugees because of war, collapsed economies, disastrous weather and environmental damage, this painting seems especially timely. It’s notable that Breughel made it in the months following an especially hard winter in Flanders and Holland. Many people and animals had frozen to death. Breughel wasn’t tempted to romanticize the world in which Mary gave birth to Jesus.

Here is what Thomas Merton had to say about Christ’s nativity:

“Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for Him at all, Christ has come un­invited. But because He cannot be at home in it, because He is out of place in it, and yet He must be in it, His place is with those others for whom there is no room. His place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world. He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst. For them, there is no escape even in imagination. They cannot identify with the power structure of a crowded humanity which seeks to project itself outward, anywhere, in a centrifugal flight into the void, to get out there where there is no God, no man, no name, no identity, no weight, no self, nothing but the bright, self-directed, perfectly obedient and infinitely expensive machine.” (Raids on the Unspeakable)

It’s tempting to see in this a two-tiered Christmas story, in which Jesus is identified with the weak, the powerless, the refugee — and we, the comfortable, observe it from a distance and are judged by how we “feel” about it. But the mystery of the incarnation involves us all: Christ is searching for lodgings in all of us, and because of this we are united in Christ with the weak, the powerless, the refugee. As Meister Eckhart wrote, “What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture?” So our response to the powerless is one of mysterious unity with them. We are, all of us, one in Christ.

Jim & Nancy

December 2018

“Census at Bethlehem” by Brueghel the Elder, 1566

A sermon about prophets

given by Jim Forest at St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh / 9 December 2018

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The Gospel reading today [Luke 3:1-6] gives us an opportunity to think about prophets and the role they might play in our lives.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, in his book The Prophets, provides us with a starting point. He writes:

“To us, a single set of injustices — cheating in business, exploitation of the poor — is slight; to the prophets disaster. To us injustice is injurious to the welfare of the people; to the prophets it is a deathblow to existence; to us, an episode; to them a catastrophe, a threat to the world…. To the prophets even a minor injustice assumes cosmic proportions.”

Rabbi Heschel’s good friend, the often-jailed Jesuit priest and poet Daniel Berrigan, saw each of the prophets “as God’s compassionate and clairvoyant and inclusive image…. Each prophet strives for a divine (which is to say, truly human) breakthrough in the human tribe. Lacerating, intemperate, relentless, the prophets raise the question again and again, in images furious and glorious, poetic and demanding: What is a human being?”

Today we are listening to a prophet, John the Baptist, that not all of us would be pleased to encounter were he presiding at a street corner in Edinburgh — presiding or, as some would say, ranting.

The Gospels provide us with a vivid portrait of John. He was a self-neglecting man who had chosen to live a profoundly ascetic life in the Judean desert where he lived on a diet of honey and locusts and dressed himself in a camel skin, which one must assume was rather rank-smelling. At some point he set up camp on the banks of the Jordan River and began preaching “a baptism of repentance” — that is a public washing — through which one’s sins would be bathed away. It proved to be the prototype of the sacrament of baptism.

Jesus was among those whom John baptized. John did that under protest, confessing he wasn’t worthy to touch the sandals on Jesus’ feet. It was John who first recognized Jesus as the awaited one, the Messiah.

On the occasion of Jesus’ baptism, John was privileged to witness a showing of the Holy Trinity: “Heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”

A man of immoderate and outspoken convictions, a man not intimidated by rulers, John said things that finally cost him his life. At the order of Herod Antipas, John’s head was chopped off. Afterward some of his disciples became followers of Jesus.

In Matthew’s Gospel we hear Jesus speaking to a large assembly about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? A man clothed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. Why then did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who shall prepare your way before you.’ Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist.” [Matthew 11:7-11]

From the first days of the Church, Christians have recognized John as the last and greatest of the biblical prophets. In bringing many people to repentance, inspiring them to lead just and merciful lives, he has indeed made crooked paths straight and rough ways smooth.

John was not one to sugar-coat his words. His declarations were not a first draft of the all-time, best-selling, self-help classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People, whose first rule is “don’t criticize, condemn or complain.” John addressed those who came to hear him as “a brood of vipers,” warning them of “the wrath to come” and calling on his listeners to “bear fruits that befit repentance.” You do not, he said, get a free pass by virtue of your family tree. “Don’t say to yourselves,” John declared, “‘we have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” John announced that already the axe is laid to the root of the tree — every tree that fails to bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

His alarmed listeners asked him, “Then what shall we do?” In the verses that follow today’s reading, John responded with simple but profoundly challenging advice: “If you have two coats, give one of them to the person who has none — and do the same with your food.” Tax collectors, notorious for their pocket-lining practices, are told to collect no more than is appointed to them. What a relief that would be for the tax payer of those oppressive days! He told soldiers: “Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.” A nonviolent soldier? Hard to imagine, but this is what John proposed and indeed this is what the early Church required of those in the military who sought baptism.

John may have been the last of the biblical prophets, but prophets have continued to arise right into our own day saying similar things that a great many of us fail to take seriously.

To give but one example, I think of those who have spent years of their lives campaigning against nuclear weapons, the most destructive of our weapons of mass destruction. You find some of these modern-day prophets living an ascetic life in tents just outside the Faslane Naval Base here in Scotland. God knows these much-ignored women and men are voices crying in the wilderness “make straight the way of the Lord.”

Ah, we say, but that’s politics! Let’s stick to religion! But a Christian who isn’t deeply troubled by the reliance on weapons that, should they ever be used, would destroy countless lives not to mention the great achievements of human endeavor and do irreparable harm to our planet’s environment, what can we say of such a person? Such a distortion of faith isn’t worth yesterday’s newspaper.

We are called to make straight the way of the Lord — that is to become a people who would rather die than murder the innocent.

Prophets are often dismissed as insane, which makes me think of a passage on sanity in the writings of Thomas Merton, the author and Trappist monk who died fifty years ago this month. In fact tomorrow is the actual anniversary. Many recognize Merton as one of the prophets of our era. I was privileged to know him.

After reading Hannah Arendt’s book on the trial of Adolf Eichmann, chief bureaucrat of the Holocaust, Merton wrote an essay with an ironic title: “A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf Eichmann.” It struck Merton that Eichmann had been declared sane by examining psychiatrists. Merton saw in Eichmann an archetype of all those who are guardians and perfecters of more efficient technologies of killing. Personally, they may have nothing against those who die from their actions. Eichmann, for example, assured the court he harbored no ill will against the Jews. But he had his duty to perform. It was enough that those in higher authority required such victims, such methods, such tools, such soldiers and such civil servants. He would have been insane not to obey.

Merton commented:

“The sanity of Eichmann is disturbing. We equate sanity with a sense of justice, with humaneness, with prudence, with the capacity to love and understand other people. We rely on the sane people of the world to preserve it from barbarism, madness, destruction. And now it begins to dawn on us that it is precisely the sane ones who are the most dangerous. It is the sane ones, the well-adapted ones, who can without qualms and without nausea aim the missiles and press the buttons that will initiate the great festival of destruction that they, the sane ones, have prepared…. No one suspects the sane, and the sane ones will have perfectly good reasons, logical, well-adjusted reasons, for firing the shot. They will be obeying sane orders that have come sanely down the chain of command.”

Words to think about. They suggest to me that what the world needs from us is less our alleged sanity than our sanctity.

May today’s Gospel give each of us the courage to say “no “when a “no” is needed.

St John the Baptist, pray for us.

* * *

The Gospel reading — Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, in the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness; and he went into all the region about the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

* * *

Who is Saint Nicholas?

St Nicholas of Myra

By Jim Forest

We can speak of Saint Nicholas in both the past and present tense.

In the past tense he was a Christian bishop of the fourth century living in Asia Minor, stories of whose sanctity became so widespread and legendary that he was added to the church’s calendar of the saints. His commemoration occurs on December 6th. But we can also speak of him in the present tense as being part of what Saint Paul calls “the cloud of witnesses” who not only inspire us but who are alive in Christ and can become one of our guardians. Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nicholas the Wonderworker.

Nicholas wrote no books nor have any of his sermons or letters survived, nor did he die a martyr’s death. Even so, few saints have been the object of such universal affection. He is seen as a model pastor, a protector of the poor and defenseless, of prisoners, orphans and seafarers, a guardian of children, repentant thieves, brewers, pawnbrokers and students. He is remembered as a brave defender of orthodox Christian teaching. He is also the patron saint of many port cities, Amsterdam among them. Thousands of churches have been named in his memory. Probably no other saint has been so often represented in icons except Mary, the Mother of God. “Having fulfilled the Gospel of Christ … you have appeared in truth as a most holy shepherd to the world,” the Orthodox Church sings on his feast day, December 6.

Nicholas was born in Patara, near the modern town of Gelemish, about 270 years after Christ’s birth and died not far away, in the port city of Myra, on the 6th of December in the year 343 AD. Both Patara and Myra are on the southern coast of what today is Turkey. In Nicholas’s time, the region was part of the Greek-speaking world known as Lycia. Nicholas’s parents died in an epidemic when their son was still a child. Nicholas’s uncle, also named Nicholas, was Patara’s bishop. It was he who took charge of his nephew’s upbringing and education.

St Nicholas as a boy (Vladislav Andrejev)

Because he grew up in a port city, in a children’s book I wrote about Nicholas I imagine him as a child listening to sailors telling stories of mermaids, sea monsters and distant exotic places. It may well be that one of his early ambitions was to become a sailor, but instead he became the heavenly guardian of sailors. Thus, according to one narrative, while on his way back to Myra after a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the ship he had boarded encountered a severe storm. Everyone would have drowned had it not been for his prayers. One often finds paintings of Nicholas protecting ships struggling against storm waves.

St Nicholas guardian of sailors

As no biography of Nicholas was written until centuries after he died, much of Nicholas’s life is known more from legend than from contemporary sources. These stories, turned into iconographic images, often serve as a border for icons of the saint.

The most popular story about him concerns his anonymous help to a family that had no dowry for their three daughters. No doubt his uncle had explained the possible dire consequences — desperate women driven by destitution into prostitution. Nicholas was moved to make a personal response. Unknown even to his uncle, he secretly gave money from his small inheritance to help, three times throwing a small sack containing several gold coins through an open window while everyone in Patara was sleeping.

St Nicholas’s secret gift (Vladislav Andrejev)

Over the centuries, Nicholas’s life was embroidered with many legends, yet several stories about him seem solidly historical. One of these relates how, after being made a bishop, Nicholas was visiting a remote part of his diocese when several citizens from Myra came with urgent news: in his absence the governor of the city, Eustathius, had condemned three men to death. Nicholas set out immediately for home. Reaching the outskirts of the city, he asked those he met on the road if they had news of the prisoners. Informed that their execution was to be carried out that morning, he rushed to the place of execution where he found a crowd of people and the three men kneeling with their arms bound, awaiting the fatal blow. Nicholas passed through the crowd, took the sword from the executioner’s hands and threw it to the ground, then ordered that the condemned men be freed from their bonds. His authority was such that the executioner left his sword where it fell. Later the governor confessed his sin and sought the saint’s forgiveness. Nicholas absolved him, but only after the ruler had undergone a period of repentance.

St Nicholas stopping execution (Ilya Repin)

During the persecutions of Diocletian at the end of the third century, Nicholas was among the many thousands imprisoned and tortured, but even in chains carried on his pastoral and teaching work. He was a participant in the First Ecumenical Council, held near Constantinople at Nicea in 325 AD. One story relates that he was so outraged by the heretic Arius, who denied the divinity of Christ, that he slapped Arius in the face, for which violent action Nicholas was briefly excluded from the Council.

During a devastating famine that hit his region in 342 AD, Nicholas used all his resources to buy grain, thus saving the local people from starvation.

St Nicholas revives three murdered children

Some Nicholas stories seem fanciful legend, for example his bringing back to life three children who had been murdered by an evil innkeeper and cut into pieces that were being boiled in a soup pot. While we may find such legends far from historical, they serve to dramatize Nicholas’s special commitment to young people, which doubtless was true.

Church of St Nicholas, Bari

After his death in 343 AD, Nicholas’s tomb in Myra became a place of pilgrimage. In the spring of 1087, with war threatening the safety of that region, sailors from Bari, a port on the southeast coast of Italy, removed Nicholas’s bones and brought them home with them. A great church was built over the crypt in Bari to honor a saint who had been a friend to the poor, rescued children and prisoners, and saved sailors and famine victims. Ever since their translation, the relics of Saint Nicholas have made Bari one of Europe’s great pilgrimage centers. To this very day many thousands of pilgrims come every year. The bones of Saint Nicholas are reported to exude a myrrh-like liquid that smells like rose water. The liquid is collected once a year, on May 9. Pilgrims from different parts of the globe distribute the myrrh, diluted with blessed water, among relatives and friends to bring comfort and bodily and spiritual healing.

Because his feast day, December 6, occurs just nineteen days before Christmas, in some countries the two feasts have become connected. In medieval England, parishes held Yuletide celebrations on Saint Nicholas’ Day. Today the feast of Saint Nicholas is still celebrated in many places.

Sinterklaas in Holland

The feast of St. Nicholas survived even in post-Reformation Holland, where
“de sint” is known as “Sinterklaas.” With great fanfare he arrives annually in Dutch cities and larger towns where crowds of children and their parents sing traditional songs of welcome.

Santa Claus

In the seventeenth century, Sinterklaas traveled with Dutch settlers to Nieuw Amsterdam. By the time Nieuw Amsterdam became New York, the name “Sinterklaas” had undergone a small but interesting change, becoming Santa Claus. But in America he lost his bishop’s robes and wandered away from his own feast day into Christmas, in the process becoming the patron saint not of the afflicted but of the consumer.

Saint Nicholas, pray for us!

* * *

Jim Forest
Kanisstraat 5
1811 GJ Alkmaars

www.jimandnancyforest.com

text as of 20 November 2018

* * *

The illustrations by Vladislav Andrejev come from Saint Nicholas and the Nine Gold Coins, a children’s book by Jim Forest published by St Vladimir’s Seminary Press. See http://jimandnancyforest.com/2015/04/saint-nicholas-and-the-nine-gold-coins/

* * *

Nhat Hanh on Meditation: Like Rain Falling on Fire

By Jim Forest

[Fellowship magazine / September 1975 / page 3-4]

In 1968, I was traveling with Thich Nhat Hanh on a Fellowship tour during which there were meetings with church and student groups, senators, journalists, professors, business people, and — blessed relief — a few poets. Almost everywhere he went, this brown-robed Buddhist monk from Vietnam, looking many years younger than the man in his 40s he was, quickly disarmed those he met.

His gentleness, intelligence and sanity made it impossible for most who encountered him to hang on to their stereotypes of what the Vietnamese were like. The vast treasury of the Vietnamese and Buddhist past spilled over through his stories and explanations. His interest in Christianity, even his enthusiasm for it, often inspired Christians to shed their condescension toward Nhat Hanh’s tradition. He was able to help thousands of Americans glimpse the war through the eyes of peasants laboring in rice paddies and raising their children and grandchildren in villages surrounded by ancient groves of bamboo. He awoke the child within the adult as he described the craft of the village kite-maker and the sound of the wind instruments these fragile vessels would carry toward the clouds.

After an hour with him, one was haunted with the beauties of Vietnam and ?lled with anguish at America’s military intervention in the political and cultural tribulations of the Vietnamese people. One was stripped of all the ideological loyalties that justified one party or another in their battles, and felt the horror of the skies raked with bombers, houses and humans burned to ash, children left to face life without the presence and love of their parents and grandparents.

But there was one evening when Nhat Hanh awoke not understanding but rather the measureless rage of one American. He had been talking in the auditorium of a wealthy Christian church in a St. Louis suburb. As always, he emphasized the need for Americans to stop their bombing and killing in his country. There had been questions and answers when a large man stood up and spoke with searing scorn of the “supposed compassion” of “this Mister Hanh.”

“If you care so much about your people, Mister Hanh, why are you here? If you care so much for the people who are wounded, why don’t you spend your time with them?” At this point my recollection of his words is replaced by the memory of the intense anger which overwhelmed me. When he finished, I looked toward Nhat Hanh in bewilderment. What could he or anyone say? The spirit of the war itself had suddenly ?lled the room and it seemed hard to breathe.

There was a silence. Then Nhat Hanh began to speak — quietly, with deep calm, indeed with a sense of personal caring for the man who had just damned him. The words seemed like rain falling on fire. “If you want the tree to grow,” he said, “it won’t help to water the leaves. You have to water the roots. Many of the roots of the war are here, in your country. To help the people who are to be bombed, to try to protect them from this suffering, I have to come here.”

The atmosphere in the room was transformed. In the man’s fury we had experienced our own furies; we had seen the world as through a bomb-bay. In Nhat Hanh’s response we had experienced an alternate possibility: the possibility (here brought to Christians by a Buddhist and to Americans by an “enemy”) of overcoming hatred with love, of breaking the seemingly endless chain reaction of violence throughout human history

But after his response, Nhat Hanh whispered something to the chairman and walked quickly from the room. Sensing something was wrong, I left the book table I had been standing behind and followed him out. It was a cool, clear night. Nhat Hanh stood on the sidewalk beside the church parking lot. He was struggling for air like someone who had been deeply underwater and who had barely managed to swim to the surface. It was several minutes before I dared ask him how he was or what had happened.

Nhat Hanh explained that the man’s comments had been terribly upsetting. He had wanted to respond to him with anger. Instead he had made himself breathe deeply and very slowly in order to find a way to respond with calm and understanding. But the breathing had been too slow and too deep.

“Why not be angry with him,” I asked. “Even pacifists have a right to be angry.” “If it were just myself, yes. But I am here to speak for Vietnamese peasants. I have to show them what we can be at our best.”

The moment was an important one in my life, one pondered again and again since then. For one thing, it was the first time that I realized there was a connection between the way one breathes and the way one responds to the world around us.

Until very recently, Nhat Hanh has made no attempt to teach Western people any of the skills of meditation — what he often calls mindfulness. Only during the past year, first with a few Western friends helping the Vietnamese Buddhist Peace Delegation in Paris, later with a group at that city’s Quaker International Center, has be begun to teach meditation. Now he has written a small book on the subject, The Miracle of Being Awake, a manual on meditation for activists.

Nhat Hanh, as Fellowship readers are likely to recall, is a poet, Zen master, and a co-chairman of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. In Vietnam, he has played a major role in the creation of “engaged Buddhism” — a profound religious renewal rooted in compassion and service out of which have emerged countless projects which have joined help to the war’s victims with nonviolent opposition to the war itself. For their work, thousands of Buddhists — nuns, monks and lay people — have been shot or imprisoned.

His work in Vietnam gave birth to the School of Youth for Social Service, Van Hanh University, a small monastery that was an early base of the nonviolent movement, a pacifist underground press (led by his co-worker Cao Ngoc Phuong), and the La Boi Press, one of the principal vehicles of cultural and religious renewal.

His poetry provides the words of many of the most popular songs in contemporary Vietnam, songs of hope surviving grief.

Even in exile, representing overseas the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, he has continued to be a force for nonviolence and reconciliation in his homeland and an organizer of supportive responses from other countries.

His friendship with Martin Luther King was a factor in Dr. King’s decision to ignore the advice of many colleagues and contributors who opposed his “mixing issues” and to join in the opposition to the Vietnam war. Shortly before his assassination, Dr. King nominated Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Only a few of Nhat Hanh’s books have yet been published outside of Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire, The Cry of Vietnam, The Path of Return Continues the Journey, Zen Keys, and (coming this fall) The Raft is Not the Shore.

During conversations with Nhat Hanh and his co-workers in Paris this summer, in the apartment of the Vietnamese Buddhist Peace Delegation, our thoughts turned to the absence of a meditative dimension in much of the American peace movement. Its absence helped explain why so much of the “peace” movement (perhaps better called the American-withdrawal movement) had exhibited such slight and superficial interest in the Buddhists’ nonviolent campaign against the war. The weaponless Buddhists were not judged truly “political”, “merely” a religious movement: admirable, unusually courageous when compared to other religious groups, but peripheral.

What American peace activists might learn from their Vietnamese counterparts is that, until there is a more meditative dimension in the peace movement, our perceptions of reality (and thus our ability to help occasion understanding and transformation) will be terribly crippled. Whatever our religious or non-religious back- ground and vocabulary may be, we will be overlooking something as essential to our lives and work as breath itself.

Breath itself. Breathing. It comes to many as astonishing news that something as simple as attention to breathing has a central part to play in meditation and prayer. It is like a mystery-novelist’s idea of hiding the diamonds in the goldfish bowl: too obvious to notice. But since the news has made its way past my own barriers of skepticism, there have been no end of confirmations, principally the confirmation of experience.

The problem with meditation is that the contexts for it are too close at hand. The chances, as Nhat Hanh points out, are scattered everywhere: in the bathtub, in the kitchen sink, on a cutting board, a sidewalk or path, on a tenement staircase, on a picket line, at a typewriter … literally anywhere. The moments and places of silence and stillness are wondrous and helpful, but not indispensable. The meditative life doesn’t require a secluded, greenhouse existence. (It does need occasional periods of time, even a whole day of the week, when special attention can be given to becoming more mindful. But then Christians and Jews ought not to be newcomers to the Sabbath.)

To the skeptic, Nhat Hanh’s suggestions will seem quite absurd, a bad joke at the end of history, the latest card trick dealt out of the ancient deck of mystical double-talk. But the pacifist affirmation itself strikes many as no smaller an absurdity: choosing to nurture life and to live without weapons in a murderous world. The way of meditation only carries that personal disarmament we have already begun an essential step deeper—~nonviolence not only in the face of governments and corporations and liberation armies but a nonviolent encounter with reality itself.

This is the way to understand a simple truth Nhat Hanh has mentioned elsewhere: “Those who are without compassion cannot see what is seen with the eyes of compassion.” That more inclusive sight makes the small but crucial difference between despair and hope.

* * *

The Green Patriarch’s Campaign for a Greener World

Patriarch Bartholomew at closing session

By Jim and Nancy Forest

Soon after his election to the throne of Ecumenical Patriarch in 1991, Bartholomew of Constantinople made clear that he saw his task not only as safeguarding the unity of the Orthodox Church but also doing all that he could to protect the world and its people in a period of extreme environmental peril. He quickly began to enlarge an initiative taken in 1989 by his predecessor, Patriarch Dimitrios, who had invited all Orthodox churches to begin the church year, the first of September, with prayer for all creation and for its preservation. In the years since, Bartholomew has repeatedly declared that “crimes against the natural world are sins…. Creation care — the preservation of nature and the protection of all people — emanates from the essence of our faith…. The world is not ours to use for our own convenience. It is God’s gift of love to us and we must return his love by protecting it and all that is in it. All human beings should draw a distinction between what we want and what we need.”

“The patriarch is a man of courage,” said Archdeacon John Chryssavgis, an adviser to Bartholomew on environmental issues. “For years he was going against the current of a significant segment of the Church, but little by little his work in this area has been recognized as prophetic. I see much of the work the patriarchate has been doing as a way of informing and educating our own.”

Not content to make speeches and issue written appeals, in 1995 Bartholomew launched a series of ship-borne floating conferences, involving not only theologians but also scientists, economists, jurists, political and business leaders, journalists, and men and women from other professions, that focused on environmental degradation. Sites chosen in the past have included the Black Sea, the Aegean, the Adriatic, the Baltic and the Danube as providing local examples of grave damage to the planet as whole.

The latest of these events, the ninth, took place in Attica, the region of Greece that has Athens at its center and includes the Saronic Islands. Two-hundred people took part in a four-day symposium, “Toward a Greener Attica.” It began June 5 in the lecture hall of the Acropolis Museum, on the southeastern slope of the Acropolis hill. Just a short walk from the museum is the Theater of Dionysus where the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes were first performed 25 centuries ago. Being in the shadow of so ground-breaking a civilization put our proceedings in a challenging historical context, as if Aristotle, Socrates, Plato and the Apostle Paul were invisibly present.

“The ecological crisis has revealed that our world constitutes a seamless whole, that our problems are universally shared,” Bartholomew said at the opening session. Highlighting the ecological problems of the surrounding region, he pointed out that “much remains to be done in order to reduce the trash in the surrounding mountainside of Attica with its deplorable landfills and to resolve all the plastic in the surrounding sea that threatens marine life.” He also spoke of the urgency of responding to the “forced migration [of many thousands of refugees] from the Middle East and Northern Africa.”

Pope Francis, in a message to the symposium read aloud by Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, said: “The care of creation, seen as a shared gift and not as a private possession, always entails the recognition and the respect of the rights of every person and every people. The ecological crisis now affecting all of humanity is ultimately rooted in the human heart, that aspires to control and exploit the limited resources of our planet while ignoring the vulnerable members of the human family. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. We cannot ignore the ubiquitous and pervasive evil in today’s situation, where sin is manifest in all its destructive power in wars, the various forms of violence and abuse, the abandonment of the most vulnerable, and attacks on nature. The duty to care for creation challenges all people of good will and calls upon Christians to cooperate in offering an unequivocal response.”

The following morning, June 6, we travelled by ferry to the auto-free island of Spetses where the conference continued its discussions, this time at the local cinema, the Titania.

The lead speaker was Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founder and director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, professor of theoretical physics at the University of Potsdam, member of the German government’s Advisory Council on Global Change and member of the Pontifical Academy of Science. There was no doubt, Schellnhuber said, that the human race has had and is having a massive impact on the world’s environment, a phenomenon known as “dangerous anthropogenic interference.” Unless dramatic steps are taken very quickly to reverse damage to the atmosphere and oceans, we can only expect rising temperatures with the result of melting ice-caps and a dramatic rise in water levels that will submerge shoreline areas, including island nations and coastal cities, producing millions of refugees and triggering massive social instability. But he insisted, late though the hour is, reversal is still possible. “Our problem,” he said, “is that we have a lot of knowledge but very little wisdom. We are like the passengers on the Titanic. Having hit an iceberg, we need to stop thinking about what’s missing on the menu or what the ship’s orchestra should play next and instead focus on the rip in the ship’s hull.”

At the same session Raj Patal, a research professor in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas in Austin, raised the haunting question, “What sort of ancestor do you want to be? Will we be seen as the generation which ignored all warnings and failed to prevent catastrophe or the generation that changed course?” The environmental crisis, he continued, dwarfs all other crises of the present moment.

The following morning the focus shifted to economics, philosophy and theology.

The first speaker of day was Jeffrey Sachs, bestselling author, professor of sustainable development at Columbia University as well as advisor on sustainable development to UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Sachs pointed out that a basic shift in economic ethics occurred in the 16th and 17th centuries. Until that time the basic model was Aristotelian, based on the model of the family and household economics: handle your wealth with prudence and self-restraint. But for such men as Thomas Hobbes, Bernard Mandeville and Adam Smith, social good was achieved not through restraint but the pursuit of self-interest. Putting theory into practice, the Dutch and British East India Companies developed the concept of limited liability — the investor profited without responsibility for any damages caused by his investment. “In effect, companies were invited to misbehave — they were given the right to pillage and even the right to make war. Thanks to limited liability, greed was unleashed and to his day remains the driving force of the modern economy…. A basic shift in our thinking is needed if we are to decarbonize by 2050. Meanwhile campaigns are needed to challenge our politicians, to boycott companies causing environmental harm, and to call on shareholders to divest the oil, gas and coal industry.”

Maude Barlow spoke at the same session. She is honorary chairperson of the Council of Canadians and chairs the board of Washington-based Food and Water Watch. Her latest books are Blue Future: Protecting Water for People and the Planet Foreverand Boiling Point: Government Neglect, Corporate Abuse, and Canada’s Water Crisis. Barlow emphasized the growing number of water-stressed and desertified areas on the planet, pointing out that it’s not only climate change that accounts for this calamity but the commodification of water (plastic bottles of water, for sale or discarded, were everywhere to be seen in Greece) plus the use of vast quantities of water in manufacturing. Meanwhile all over the world major corporations are competing for control and ownership of water. Our job, said Barlow, is to work for recognition of water as a sacred trust that must be protected as an essential part of the eco-system belonging to all. Campaigners need to focus on water as a human right and public trust.

The well-known Orthodox theologian, Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon, author Being as Communion, concentrated on the transformed spiritual life that undergirds care of the environment. He is currently visiting professor at the University of Geneva and the Gregorian University in Rome. Zizioulas stressed that the role of the heart was even more important than that of the mind. It is a mistake to try to solve our problems with the unaided intellect. Dealing with climate change is more than a matter of education. Our ecological problems arise from neglect of the heart, he said, and it is in the heart, where the will resides, that they will be solved. We must purify our hearts. Conversion is needed. As St. Maximos the Confessor taught, selfishness — putting one’s own interests above all others — is the source of all our problems, while care of the other is rooted in the heart. The way of the heart is the way of asceticism — the way of restraint and sobriety. The way ahead requires sacrifice of our self-interest and eucharistic gratitude for the world as a gift from God.

Elizabeth Theokritoff, a research associate and lecturer at the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies in Cambridge and co-chairwoman of the Religion and Science group in the International Orthodox Theological Association, stressed that the word “creation” is not a synonym for the environment but rather that creation comprises everything. “Creation is not something outsideof us. We are part of creation. Creation is not what we are deputed to care for; it is what we are.”

Following lunch, we went by ferry to the nearby island of Hydra where, with church bells ringing, much of the local population turned out to welcome the patriarch.

The symposium’s next session, held in a conference hall provided by the local church, focused on the refugee crisis — the migration of a tidal wave of reluctant migrants who are escaping war, environmental destruction and destitution.

Philippe Leclerc, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, explained that many myths surround the refugees, not least in Europe and America. “In fact, most refugees are not dreaming of a life in Europe or the United States. The vast majority, 85 percent, are being hosted in the south. For example, today one-third of the population of Lebanon is made up of refugees.”

Mohammed Abu-Nimer, professor of international peace and conflict resolution at the School of International Service of American University, emphasized that war is the main source of refugees. “These are not people who want to leave their homeland, in fact it’s just the opposite. They are running for their lives. Those seeking to respond to the refugee crisis need to become peace builders, but peace building takes much longer than making war. Signing peace agreements is only the beginning.”

Vandana Shiva, a physicist, founded the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology and also Bija Vidyapeeth, an international college for sustainable living. She has become a leading advocate for organic food production. Her work has demonstrated that harvests can be increased by up to 300 percent by using organic farming methods, in contrast, to using products made by the “poison cartel” involving such companies as Monsanto and Bayer. The global system of growing food is killing people, she said; she estimated that 75 percent of all chronic disease is linked to current methods of global food growing. Our task, she insisted, is to see food as sacred. Her comment that “all bread should be seen as a sacrament” brought a nod of agreement from the patriarch.

The last speaker of the session on Hydra was himself a refugee, Mohammad Vahedi. With great difficulty he had made his way from Iran to Greece sixteen years ago when he was fifteen. There was no one to welcome him — no accommodation centers or organizations to support unaccompanied young refugees arriving in Greece. It took Vahedi a decade before he was finally recognized as a refugee. He is now pursuing postgraduate studies while working for the SOS Children’s Villages in Greece with a program hosting unaccompanied minors. He spoke movingly of failed attempts to cross the Aegean Sea before reaching the Greek coastline. “No one wants to be a refugee,” he said.

Our ferry back to Spetses that afternoon was attended by a pod of playful dolphins. We took their presence as a sign of support for all efforts to promote living more lightly on our small planet.

Returning by ship to Athens the next morning, there was an on-board final session of the symposium.

One of the speakers was John Cardinal Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja in Nigeria, who is credited with saving Nigeria from dictatorship. In 2012 he was named Pax Christi International’s Peace Laureate. Cardinal John spoke of his appreciation for Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudato Si, a document several other speakers had especially recommended. “We are called,” Cardinal John said, “to listen both to the cry of creation and the cry of the poor.” Laughing, he commented that no one speaks these days of the death of God — “the Death-of-God theologians have died.” “God is with us,” he added. “Faith and grace can change the human heart.”

Rabbi Avraham Soetendorp from Amsterdam, a founding member of the Islam and the West dialogue group of the World Economic Forum, remarked that many people today look toward the future with despair. He recalled how in 1943, during the German occupation of the Netherlands, he had been rescued by a Catholic family who were ready to risk their lives in order to save his. “We are wood that has been plucked from the fire,” he said. “How can we ever despair? With compassion we can confront the truth without compromise. Let us seize the moment!”

Patriarch Bartholomew had the last word. “Dear friends,” he said, “we have come to the conclusion of our gathering but a long journey lies before us. We have heard some inspiring presentations. Now it remains for us to preach what we oractice. Now we must begin the long and difficult way from the mind to the heart. There is so much more we can do to change attitudes if only we work with one another. May God in his abundant mercy guide you in your service to his people.”

During several sessions of the conference the two of us sat near Patriarch Bartholomew. We were impressed not only at his continuous presence but at how attentive he was, often nodding his head in assent when a speaker made a suggestion for action.

In the discussion period at the first session on the island of Spetses, a participant made the comment that the speeches being given were all well and good but a waste of time — “this symposium is a case of pastors preaching to the choir.” In fact, as became clear in discussions, a significant number were definitely not of one mind or singing from the same hymn book. Even for those who had similar convictions and analyses and thus might be seen as members of an environmental crisis “choir,” choristers sometimes burn out. Each of us needs renewed inspiration to reach further into the minds and hearts of those who have, in the past, turned an indifferent or even hostile ear. Our sense is that most who took part in the symposium, whatever their differences, left not only freshly challenged but with revitalized hope.

* * *

Nancy Forest is a Dutch-English translator of fiction and non-fiction and has worked extensively with the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. She is married to Jim Forest, who is the author of biographies of Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, and Daniel Berrigan, as well as books on pilgrimage, the basic teachings of Jesus, religious imagery, and overcoming enmity. He is also international secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. They are members of the Parish of St Nicholas of Myra (Moscow Patriarchate) in Amsterdam and sit on the advisory board of The Wheel.

22 June 2018

Photos:

Web site of the symposium:

* * *
first published at:
https://www.wheeljournal.com/blog/2018/6/22/jim-and-nancy-forest-the-green-patriarchs-campaign-for-a-greener-world

The Milwaukee Fourteen: A Burning Protest against the Vietnam War

The Milwaukee 14 – 24 September 1968

Wisconsin Magazine of History / Winter 2017

By Tim Thering

On September 24, 1968, fourteen religiously motivated, anti-Vietnam war activists removed, or in their words, “liberated,” ten thousand draft records from the Milwaukee Selective Service office. The protesters, including five Catholic priests, hauled the draft files to a square in the middle of a busy Milwaukee throughway, poured what they called “homemade napalm” over records, and lit them on fire. The protesters gathered around the burning pyre, prayed, and sang “We Shall Overcome.”1 Their action sparked immediate controversy within the city of Milwaukee, which was still reeling from the Open Housing marches for fair housing that had ended just months before. Like much of the United States, Milwaukee was divided over Vietnam, but the stealing and burning of draft records was seen as a particularly pointed political act, far more serious than simply burning one’s own selective service papers.2 The Fourteen anticipated the reaction their protest might ignite, but they hoped it would inspire others to similar radical action. As they declared: “Our action is not an end in itself.”3

For the Fourteen, the burning of draft records was not simply a protest born of frustration at an ineffective political system. They saw the action as a “prophetic witness” that would counteract the passivity and silence of the Catholic Church. They also hoped to turn the public eye toward the excesses of war spending, as they believed the money could be better used at home to fight poverty and racial inequality. All were aware of the possible outcomes and saw their action as an example of taking responsibility and suffering the consequences—something they believed the country had not done in Vietnam. As Father Lawrence Rosebaugh wrote just hours before the protest, “We stand as witnesses to ask our government and all fellow men to come to grips seriously with our actions in Vietnam.”4 Largely forgotten today, the Milwaukee Fourteen stand as examples of radical resistance, motivated not simply by political fervor but also by religious conviction.

Losing Faith in Politics

Nineteen sixty-eight was a tumultuous year. In late January, the American public was shocked when Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces launched the Tet Offensive, attacking thirty-six provincial capitals and five major cities in South Vietnam, including Saigon. Americans had been repeatedly assured by military and political leaders that an end to the war was in sight, but Tet undermined this. Walter Cronkite, the trusted anchor of the CBS Evening News, asserted that the US effort was stalemated.”5 By March 10, a Gallup poll revealed that almost half of the nation believed sending troops to Vietnam had been a mistake.6

With the public turning against the war and President Lyndon Johnson’s approval rating plummeting, many concerned citizens turned to the political process as a way to end US involvement in the conflict. On March 12, 1968, Senator Eugene McCarthy, running on an antiwar platform, came in a close second to President Johnson in the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary. Thousands of young antiwar activists were willing to “Get Clean for Gene.” On March 16, after McCarthy’s strong showing, Senator Robert F. Kennedy entered the race as a peace candidate on the Democratic ticket. Two weeks later, President Johnson addressed the nation and announced that he was temporarily halting the bombing of North Vietnam. Then he declared: “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.”7

With two viable antiwar candidates competing for the Democratic nomination, the early spring of 1968 seemed to promise change in Vietnam. But hopes for peace were soon shattered by violence on the home front. On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr., the most famous opponent of the war and the strongest advocate of nonviolent civil disobedience and civil rights, was assassinated in Memphis.

As cities across the nation erupted in violence upon the news of Dr. King’s death, Milwaukee remained calm. Father James Groppi, speaking for members of the NAACP Youth Council, stated they were “sad and bitter” over King’s murder, but there was no rioting in Milwaukee.8 The Youth Council’s Open Housing marches campaign, two hundred nights of marching on the city’s south side from August 1967 to March 1968, had proven that nonviolent civil disobedience was still a possible and relevant means to achieve civil rights.9 Now, thirteen thousand Milwaukeeans marched solemnly through the city to mourn and honor the slain martyr of peace. Michael Cullen, one of the principal organizers of the Milwaukee Fourteen, participated in this silent vigil. Cullen praised his fellow Catholic and good friend Father Groppi for gaining the respect of African Americans in Milwaukee in advising the NAACP Youth Council during the marches. “The only white man the black man will recognize is one who has become black,” said Cullen. “Jim [Father Groppi] has done that. He bears witness daily with his body.” According to Cullen, the respect Father Groppi earned within the Milwaukee African American community helped him to “cool riot situations.”10

In contrast, campuses across the country erupted. An estimated one million college and high school students participated in the National Strike against War, Racism, and the Draft on April 26, 1968.11 According to the Milwaukee underground magazine Kaleidoscope, “40% of the student body boycotted classes” at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.12 Instead, over three thousand students attended a talk by Muhammad Ali. A year earlier, Ali had refused induction into the armed forces, and he was facing up to five years in prison for his draft resistance.13 At UW–Milwaukee, students engaged in guerrilla theater to register their disapproval of the war and the draft. Members of the Demilitarized Zone Mime Troupe set up a sacrificial altar “to the God, LBJ” on campus.14 The organizers burned dolls on the altar “as a mock representation of children being napalmed by Christian Americans.”15 One young woman offered up her bra to burn while other students threw draft cards, social security cards, and bus passes onto the fire. The Milwaukee Organizing Committee (MOC) organized a protest outside the Federal Building on the same day, joined by members of Marquette’s Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and thirty students from Riverside High School. From the Federal Building, the roughly two hundred protesters marched to City Hall.16

By the summer of 1968, tensions were at a high. Then in June, right after delivering his victory speech upon winning the California Democratic primary, Senator Bobby Kennedy was gunned down. The Democratic Convention held in Chicago that August devolved into chaos. When a majority of delegates to the convention selected as their presidential nominee Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who had not run in a single Democratic Party primary, bedlam ensued both within and outside the hall of the convention. Delegates committed to Senator McCarthy, and many of those pledged to the assassinated Kennedy, felt betrayed by the establishment. Fistfights broke out between delegates on the convention floor. Outside the convention hall, antiwar activists attempted to march from Grant Park to the Hilton. On Michigan Avenue, the protesters met a wall of Chicago police. Rather than hold  the line, the police waded into the ranks of the marchers and started swinging. With news of the alleged police riot trickling into the convention hall, Senator Abraham Ribicoff, who was in the midst of nominating Senator George McGovern as a peace alternative to Humphrey, went off script and declared that if George McGovern was president, “We wouldn’t have to have Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago.” A seething Mayor Richard Daley purportedly shouted back at Senator Ribicoff: “F–k you, you Jew son of a bitch.”17 The hope of peace through politics died that night in Chicago.

A month later, having lost faith in the political process, the Milwaukee Fourteen took action against this backdrop of racial and civil unrest. For inspiration, they looked to a protest carried out by religious activists a few months before. On May 17, 1968, nine Catholic activists, including Father Daniel Berrigan and Father Philip Berrigan, broke into the draft board office in Catonsville, Maryland. The protesters grabbed 378 daft files, took them to the parking lot, poured homemade napalm over the files, and then ignited a roaring blaze.18 The Milwaukee Fourteen timed their action to draw attention to the upcoming trial of the Catonsville Nine. Like the Catonsville Nine, their protest and the subsequent trials garnered national attention. But it did not stay on the national radar for long, overshadowed by an ever-shifting news cycle and then forgotten by historians, who tend to focus on the bigger and seemingly more contentious protests held on the UW–Madison campus. In fact, religious opposition to the war, especially among Catholic radicals, was a crucial part of the antiwar movement. The protest in Milwaukee demonstrates the reach of this wing of the antiwar movement— right into the sacred heart of the heartland.

Motivations of the Milwaukee Fourteen

Unlike many who protested against the Vietnam War, the Milwaukee Fourteen viewed their action not only as a political act but also as a religious one. Notre Dame’s Scholastic magazine interviewed Michael Cullen as the main organizer of the action and asked him what the main difference between a Christian radical and a secular radical was. Cullen responded: “Where some of us break with SDS in tactics is that we go far beyond a political point of view. Christ goes much deeper than the political. The 14 stood around to accept the consequences of what we did. That’s something that political people can’t understand.”19 When asked why he was inspired to translate his religious beliefs into radical action, Cullen said: “I just couldn’t stand by. . . . If you meditate long on the child destroyed by napalm in Vietnam, tears will fill in your eyes very fast. It’s like meditating on the stripping of Christ.”20

Vatican II also called the Milwaukee Fourteen to action. Pope John XXIII’s encyclical letter Pacem in Terris (1963) and Vatican II documents such as the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (1965) convinced them that the Church and Pope were summoning Catholics to work for peace and to oppose unjust wars. For the Milwaukee Fourteen, the problem was not with recent popes or the changing church in Rome, but rather with the US Catholic hierarchy that did not seem to get the memo.21 In a not-so-subtle dig at the Catholic hierarchy in the United States, Father Groppi compared the Milwaukee Fourteen’s actions “to Christ’s overturning the tables of the money changers in the temple.”22

In 1964, Jim Forest, one of the Fourteen, helped found the Catholic Peace Fellowship (CPF). Forest envisioned that the CPF would become the Catholic version of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), the main Protestant pacifist group in the United States since World War I. FOR assisted Forest in establishing the CPF. Early in its existence, the CPF lobbied behind the scenes with other Catholic groups at Vatican II to encourage the council to issue a statement legitimizing the right of Catholics to conscientiously object to unjust wars. Vatican II did just that, which proved to be crucial in allowing young Catholics in the United States to claim conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War. Jim Forest and other members of the CPF spent much of their time telling young Catholic men that they had this option and walking them through the process of how to achieve CO status.23

Father Lawrence Rosebaugh, a Milwaukee Catholic priest and Milwaukee Fourteen member, also joined the draft burning for religious reasons. He said he participated “because Christianity wasn’t moving like a Movement should.”24 Father Rosebaugh saw himself as a prophetic witness. Hours before the draft burning, he wrote: “I have become a tool to be worked on and molded. I am being made into something beautiful that others from me can share the gift bestowed upon me. . . . We stand as witnesses to ask our government and all fellow men to come to grips seriously with our actions in Vietnam.25 To these radical Catholics, witnessing did not mean standing on the sidelines and observing—to witness demanded action. If the action had consequences, the group would stand and take them.

Most of the Milwaukee Fourteen were also veterans or supporters of the Catholic Worker movement and disciples of Dorothy Day. In addition to leading the Catholic Peace Fellowship, Jim Forest edited the Catholic Worker. Michael Cullen opened up Casa Maria in Milwaukee, a Catholic Worker home for the homeless. Cullen and Bob Graf founded and co-edited the Catholic Radical, a local Catholic Worker newspaper in Milwaukee, and Father Rosebaugh opened the Living Room, a daytime drop-in center for the city’s homeless. For the Milwaukee Fourteen, their work with the homeless, poor, and minorities convinced them that money spent on the war in Vietnam should rather be spent on the War on Poverty at home. Like Martin Luther King Jr., they believed the government’s priorities were immoral. Cullen stated: “It was Dan [Berrigan] who impressed me, overwhelmed me by his person, and his style, who tied poverty and the war together for me. When I learned about the Catonsville 9, I simply had to take off. I had to act.”26

The Milwaukee Fourteen were also inspired by the 1967 to 1968 civil rights struggle for fair housing. Local members of the Fourteen, like Graf and Cullen, had participated in at least some of the two hundred nights of marching for open housing in Milwaukee. However, until they drew the connections between civil rights, poverty, and the war, most had not wanted a role on the front line of protest. Cullen explained: “Even though I had walked in the Groppi demonstrations and was somewhat involved in the civil rights movement, for the most part I was withdrawn. I could hardly be called a protestor or a radical.”27 Similar to the criticisms Dr. King faced when he came out against the war, the Fourteen had a difficult time explaining even to those who shared their concerns about civil rights and helping the poor how the war was connected. “As I began to speak about the war,” Cullen remembered, “people began to think I was more concerned with peace than I was concerned with the poor. But being concerned with the poor is the heart of peacemaking.”28

Previous Antiwar Activities

Although most of the Fourteen were motivated by religious convictions, there is no doubt they also interpreted the event as a political act. All of the Milwaukee Fourteen had already been active in the antiwar movement. It was their frustration that conventional civil disobedience had achieved so little in ending the war and ending the draft that motivated them to up the ante. Father Anthony Mullaney, a Catholic priest from Massachusetts and a Milwaukee Fourteen member, elaborated on the personal journey that led him to believe he had no other option. Mullaney had concluded that US involvement in Vietnam was wrong five years earlier, long before President Johnson sent combat troops. His opposition took the form of traditional protest within the law. He wrote letters, signed petitions, gave talks, preached sermons and “even risked a march or two.”29 According to a pamphlet put out by the Milwaukee Fourteen Defense Fund, Father Mullaney and Father Robert Cunnane, another Massachusetts priest who participated, had “gone through the proper channels.”30 They had even “appeared in groups at the White House, at the Senate, [and] at the House of Representatives” to plead with politicians to end the hostilities and “divert needed funds to the urban crises.”31 But their words and actions had come to naught. According to the priests, “some [politicians] even agreed with them—privately—but told them they could do nothing for them.”32

Father Cunnane helped found the Boston Committee for Religious Concern for peace. On October 16, 1967, Father Cunnane had spoken at the Arlington Street Church protest in Boston, where a couple hundred draft cards were turned in. Dr. Benjamin Spock, the famous pediatrician who changed the way Americans raised its children with his bestseller Baby and Child Care, and the Reverend William Coffin, the longtime civil rights and peace activist, would later be tried on charges of conspiracy for “returning” these draft cards to the Justice Department during the 1967 March on the Pentagon protests.33 Under Selective Service rules, young men registered for the draft needed to keep possession of their draft card at all times. Doug Marvy, the only Jewish member of the group, counseled young men on how to avoid the draft. Two others, Fred Ojile and the Reverend Jon Higgenbotham, a minister of the Founding Church of Scientology and the Church of American Science, were draft counselors in Minnesota.

Milwaukee members of the Fourteen had also been active against the war before the draft burning. Michael Cullen held a ten-day fast and vigil to draw attention to the immorality of the war at Milwaukee’s Saint John’s Cathedral in the spring of 1967. Cullen later reflected that the fast dramatically changed him: “I returned a different man. My life had taken a drastic turn.”34 On Good Friday of that year, Cullen left the cathedral and, with a small group of followers, carried a large crucifix from Saint John’s to Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church on Milwaukee’s south side. The group hoped that Catholics would remember what “the Prince of Peace” had sacrificed his flesh for.35 Just two days before the draft burning, Cullen, Jerry Gardner, and Bob Graf joined another protest at Saint John’s Cathedral. About a dozen protesters rushed the altar during Sunday mass. Father Nicholas Riddell, a priest from Saint Boniface Catholic Church (the church of civil rights activist Father James Groppi), then attempted to read a statement condemning the US Catholic Church for its silence on the war.36

All of this previous antiwar activity had convinced the Fourteen that something more drastic had to be done. Father Mullaney explained: “In order to be heard in a society where all ‘legal’ means of protest had been exhausted by us, where our right to free speech had been rendered ineffective, where all the words—such as peace, freedom—had been preempted by the government, where so many of us had become dulled by the long years of war and violence . . . we turned over the ‘golden calf’ of property [draft records].”37 The Milwaukee Fourteen knew that destruction of such “property” would likely lead to imprisonment and prosecution. Anticipating the charges, they had a ready answer in a statement they passed out to the press at the time of the action. “Today we destroy Selective Service System files because men need to be reminded that property is not sacred. . . . If anything tangible is sacred, it is the gift of life and flesh.” The Catholic radicals went on to decry the destruction of life not only in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, but in Latin America, Africa, and “Harlem, Delano, and wherever the poor live and die.” “Property” such as draft records could be used by any tyrannical regime or individual against life: “the gas ovens in Germany, concentration camps in Russia, occupation tanks in Czechoslovakia, pieces of paper in draft offices, slum holdings, factories of death machines.” Tying themselves to the American past, the Milwaukee Fourteen reminded the nation that the country did not dwell on the destruction of property when celebrating the Boston Tea Party.38

The Action

Although the Milwaukee Fourteen described burning the draft records as prophetic witness, they did not want to bear witness in the wilderness. As Michael Cullen put it at his trial, “the act belonged to the public.”39 Media savvy and yet cautious about tipping off law enforcement, the Milwaukee Fourteen arranged for reporters, photographers, and a film crew to be on hand, with the media not knowing exactly what the action would be or where it would take place. John Hagedorn, a member of the Milwaukee Organizing Committee, contacted the local media, telling them an event would take place on September 24 that might produce a story of “national headline importance.”40 Hagedorn met the media in a parking lot several blocks from the event and then had the group caravan to another parking lot. Hagedorn went up to the end of the block, ran back, handed out the press releases, and shouted: “Go to the corner. There’s your story.”41

By the time reporters arrived, the group was dragging draft records from the Selective Service offices in the Brumder Building to a small park across Wells Street, placing the sacks beneath a World War I memorial flagpole honoring fallen soldiers. At 5:55 p.m., Jerry Gardner, a Marquette graduate student and lifelong Milwaukee resident, and Don Cotton, co-chair of SDS at Saint Louis University, poured the homemade napalm over the draft records. Once the papers were soaked, Gardner and Doug Marvy set them ablaze.42 The deed done, the Fourteen gathered together in a supportive embrace and waited to be arrested, singing the Lord’s Prayer and reading scripture as fire trucks wailed in the distance.43 As the records continued to burn, a few pedestrians stopped to observe. Others did a quick double take and kept on walking. Michael Kirkhorn, a reporter from the Milwaukee Journal, began asking people walking by for their response. An older man, hearing the prayers and seeing the clerical collars of the priests as they gathered around the burning draft records, “muttered, “I bet they never read any scripture.” One young man exclaimed hopefully, “Maybe they got [my record].”44

By 6:04 p.m., firemen had extinguished the fire with some draft records still blowing in the wind.45 Cullen gave a short speech as the firemen raked the embers: “We love all of you who are putting out the fire. We have done this because we love America. We believe America has done wrong in Vietnam.”46 By this point, the police had arrived and began gently pushing the Fourteen toward the patrol wagons. The protesters offered no resistance, nor did the police officers use much force or even seem to be in a hurry as they made their arrests. By 6:15, all the Fourteen were in the patrol wagons heading for the Milwaukee County Safety Building. By the time the police had hauled the group away, around one hundred Milwaukee bystanders bore witness to the action.

While gathered around the burning records waiting for the police, Father Anthony Mullaney, reading from Luke 12:51, underscored how the Fourteen viewed their action as a baptism by fire: “But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is over. Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the world? Not peace, I tell you, but division.”47 And divide, the Milwaukee Fourteen did.

Response to the Milwaukee Fourteen

The day after the protest, the Milwaukee County Council of the Democratic Party passed a unanimous resolution condemning the mass draft burning. As the resolution was being introduced, several members began shouting “Shoot ’em.”48 Underscoring the heat of the times, the local Democratic Party also passed at the meeting a resolution praising Chicago Mayor Richard Daley for his actions the previous month against antiwar protesters at the national convention. This vitriol was not unexpected.

The Milwaukee Democratic Party of the 1960s was dominated by and represented the interests of the city’s white, blue-collar Catholic residents, especially those working-class voters of eastern and southern European ancestry residing on the city’s south side. These white ethnic workers had supported the Democratic Party since the New Deal. From the 1930s to the 1960s, the Democratic Party had helped them achieve a lower middle-class lifestyle with unions (the Wagner Act), homes (FHA loans and the GI Bill), and dignity in retirement (Social Security and Medicare). However, by the mid-1960s, many working-class Milwaukeeans began to feel forgotten. Even though many of LBJ’s Great Society programs continued to improve their lives, they resented the increasing focus on alleviating poverty and support for civil rights.

Many white working-class Milwaukeeans believed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 threatened their economic security and their modest homes. The ardent segregationist of Alabama, Governor George Wallace, won 34 percent of the vote in the 1964 Wisconsin Democratic presidential primary in large part due to his support on the south side of Milwaukee. He told these former bulwarks of liberalism that the ”civil wrongs bill” would mean the death of labor unions and private property.49 At a Wallace campaign rally at Serb Hall on the city’s south side in 1964, the crowd serenaded the southern segregationist governor with a verse of “Dixie” sung in Polish. At the same rally, two African American protesters who refused to stand for the national anthem were forced out of the hall with shouts of “Send Them Back to Africa.”50 Wallace claimed afterward: “If I ever had to leave Alabama, I’d want to live on the south side of Milwaukee.”51 Despite a peaceful intent, the Open Housing marches and further actions by the NAACP Youth Council only inflamed these racial hatreds further. The marchers, whose route took them to Kosciuszko Park on the south side, faced thousands of hostile counter protesters. With signs such as “Polish Power,” a cardboard casket marked “Groppi, Rest in Hell,” and chants of “kill, kill, kill,” the counter demonstrators unleashed their anger at those who simply wanted the right to choose where they lived.52

Within this cauldron of racial tension, the Milwaukee Fourteen’s action added fuel to the fire among the city’s ethnic working class. Although the war was not necessarily popular among these white blue-collar voters, they despised the protests and protesters—whom they associated with civil rights marchers—even more. It was their sons who were being sacrificed in Vietnam, and they resented college kids, and now even Catholic priests, telling them that their sons had died or might die for an unjust cause.

Republicans also quickly condemned the actions of the Milwaukee Fourteen. State Senator Robert Warren, a Republican running for state attorney general on a law-and-order platform that mimicked Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign, blasted the burning as “brazen anarchy.”53 Republican vice-presidential candidate Spiro Agnew, campaigning on the south side of Milwaukee just four days after the burning of the draft records, hammered home the slogan of law and order. Agnew, in a conscious attempt to peel these voters away from George Wallace’s third-party presidential campaign, fed the crowd red meat. He started out by declaring that the country was in a “moral crisis” and needed “moral leadership.” But, he claimed, “a president is not a clergyman, and I may say to you in Milwaukee that neither is a clergyman a president.”54 The crowd erupted in sustained applause. Everyone at the rally knew that Agnew was referring to the Milwaukee Fourteen and Father Groppi.

The Milwaukee Journal, considered the liberal newspaper of Milwaukee’s two dailies, ran an editorial that decried the actions of the Milwaukee Fourteen as “inexcusable hooliganism.” Challenging the protesters’ adherence to pacifism and nonviolence, the Journal editors proclaimed that instead “they defiled the pacifist traditions of Thoreau and Gandhi.” According to the Journal, the actions of the Milwaukee Fourteen “were more reminiscent of the ruffians of the Pennsylvania whiskey rebellion.”55 The next day, the Milwaukee Journal ran a front-page editorial cartoon that compared the Milwaukee Fourteen to the John Birch Society, the Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, and Vietnam War hawks, arguing that they were “pious fanatics” who believed “the end justifies any means.”56

Although the immediate local response overwhelmingly condemned the draft burning a few championed it. Father Groppi called the Fourteen “saints . . . who performed a tremendous act of courage.” He contrasted the group’s bravery to the “silence of the church hierarchy”  on the war in Vietnam.57 Groppi also questioned the Milwaukee Journal’s decision to refer to the burning of the draft records as “hooliganism.” “What do they call the war in Vietnam?” he demanded to know.58 Father Groppi would soon become co-chair of the Milwaukee Fourteen Defense Fund, which raised money for bail and legal fees.

To show support for the Milwaukee Fourteen, Father Groppi and comedian Dick Gregory organized a solidarity march. On October 1, 1968, 150 people gathered to listen to speeches supporting the Fourteen at Saint Boniface Catholic Church. Lawrence Friend, president of the Milwaukee NAACP Youth Council, denounced the Vietnam War as a “white man’s war” and called on African Americans to resist the draft. From Saint Boniface, Father Groppi and the supporters marched to Marquette University, where Dick Gregory gave a two-hour talk. After his talk, a group of five hundred, mainly Marquette students and a few NAACP Youth Council members, marched to the Milwaukee County Safety Building where the Milwaukee

Aftermath: Flames and Ashes

Whether they were trying to put on a brave front or they really wanted to go to prison to serve as an example, all of the Milwaukee Fourteen ended up serving at least a year in prison for their actions. After serving his time, Cullen, an Irish immigrant, also suffered deportation. Even though Cullen’s wife, Annette (Nettie), had been born and raised in Wisconsin, she and the children accompanied him to Ireland. Cullen would not be allowed to return to the United States until 1991.61 Bob Graf, Jerry Gardner, Fred Ojile, and Doug Marvy each missed the birth of a child while they served their sentences.

After his federal trial in March 1970, Cullen testified that he acted with full knowledge of the potential consequences: “I did what I did lest I be judged not a man but a coward. I did what I did even though I knew I jeopardized my wife’s future and my children.”62 Cullen’s macho stance quickly faded after only three months in prison. Considering his public statements and his long commitment to the Catholic Worker movement, his letter to Federal Judge Gordon would no doubt shock some of his supporters, but reveals that Michael Cullen, like all of us, was more human than saint:

“My reason for writing at this time is to beg you for mercy—help lighten my sentence . . .

I beg you. My wife and three children are having a terrible time—I really mean that. And it is not just financial but emotionally as well . . . I am willing to be put under surveillance by the federal government for whatever time they deem necessary. Please help us judge. Please. I promise to be a good citizen. This has been my first offense and I promise it will be my last.”63

Although personally costly for the men, the actions of the Milwaukee Fourteen did have immediate results. As Jim Forest explained decades later, “For starters, it closed down conscription for a time in a major US city. In Milwaukee for several months the only people who were sent to the war were volunteers.”64 It also inspired others. On May 25, 1969, protesters organized a mass draft record burning in Chicago, timed to draw national attention to the trial of the Milwaukee Fourteen.65 The Chicago protesters, who became known as the Chicago Fifteen, burned even more draft records than the Milwaukee Fourteen—some 40,000.66 One of those arrested was Milwaukee’s own Father Nicolas Riddell. Richard Zipfel, a spokesperson for the Milwaukee Fourteen Defense Committee, told the media that the Fourteen were “overjoyed and delighted” that their action had encouraged others to take nonviolent direct action against the war machine.67

However,  the Milwaukee Fourteen were dismayed when violence was employed by those who wanted to bring the war home. On September 28, 1969, the Federal Building  in Milwaukee was bombed—almost a year to the day of the Milwaukee Fourteen action.68 In a statement to the press, Cullen lamented the bombing: “I would like to make clear that I was very saddened by this happening since it was undoubtedly perpetrated by persons who have a real concern for the welfare of this society but who, in their eagerness for change, have overstepped the limitations of non-violence. I feel that such an act . . . will only create more fear.”69 Cullen explained that he would begin a fast “as penance for this act since I may well have inspired it.”

Whether viewed as saints or hooligans, the Milwaukee Fourteen deserve to be remembered. The burning of the draft records and the various responses to it are part of our collective history—indeed, part of Wisconsin history. For better or worse, the Milwaukee Fourteen ignited a firestorm whose flames have not been completely extinguished.

* * *

About the author: Tim Thering is an associate professor of history at University of Wisconsin–Waukesha where he teaches a course on the Vietnam War. He is a past recipient of the UW–Colleges Chancellor’s Award for his contributions commemorating the Milwaukee Open Housing Marches. In 2016, he served as co-chair of the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books. The author would like to thank Marquette archivist Phil Runkel for his research assistance and Margaret (Peggy) Rozga for encouraging him to tell the story of the Milwaukee Fourteen.

* * *

Notes

  1. “Statement for Issuance while Awaiting Arrest for the Destruction of Milwaukee Draft Records,” September 24, 1968, Milwaukee Fourteen Defense Committee Records, 1968– 1971, Wisconsin Historical Society Area Research Center Archives, Golda Meier Library, UW–Milwaukee; “The Milwaukee Fourteen: Hypothesis, Perspective,” Kaleidoscope (Milwaukee) 1, no. 24 (1968): 5.
  2. Michael S. Foley, Confronting the War Machine: Draft Resistance during the Vietnam War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 3–16; Charles DeBenedetti, An American Ordeal: The Antiwar Movement of the Vietnam Era (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1990), 128–130.
  3. “Statement for Issuance.”
  4. Father Larry Rosebaugh, “This Is How I See It,” September 24, 1968, Michael Denis Cullen Papers, Series 5, Box 1, Special Collections and University Archives, Raynor Memorial Libraries, Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin (hereafter Cullen Papers).
  5. Robert Mann, A Grand Delusion: America’s Descent into Vietnam (New York: Basic Books, 2002), 574–575.
  6. Forty-nine percent of those polled said it was a mistake, 41 percent said it was not, and 10 percent had no opinion. George Gallop, ed., The Gallup Poll: Public Opinion 1935–1971, Vol. 3 (New York: Random House, 1972), 2109.
  7. Charles E. Neu, America’s Lost War, Vietnam: 1945-1975 (Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, 2005), 142.
  8. “Wisconsin Leaders Mourn Dr. King,” Madison Capital Times, April 5, 1968.
  9. For histories of the 1967/1968 Milwaukee Open Housing marches, see Patrick D. Jones, Selma of the North: Civil Rights Insurgency in Milwaukee (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009) and Margaret Rozga, “March On Milwaukee,” Wisconsin Magazine of History 90, no. 4 (Summer 2007): 28–39.
  10. “Milwaukee Priest Long Known as Advocate of Non-Violence,” The Ontario Daily Report, May 22, 1968.
  11. “Student Strike Succeeds,” Kaleidoscope 1, no. 14 (1968): 2; “LBJ Sacrificial Altar,” Kaleidoscope 1, no. 14 (1968): 5.
  12. “Student Strike Succeeds.”
  13. “Pugilist Poet Preacher Muhammad Has Stage,” Wisconsin State Journal, April 27, 1968.
  14. “LBJ Sacrificial Altar.”
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Testimony of Richard Joseph Daley, Chicago Eight Conspiracy Trial, University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law Famous Trials website, accessed at http://www.famoustrials.com/chicago8/1322-daley.
  18. For the definitive study of the Catonsville Nine, see Shawn Francis Peters, The Catonsville Nine: A Story of Faith and Resistance in the Vietnam Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).
  19. “Violence in Search of Peace: An Interview with Michael Cullen,” Scholastic (Notre Dame), May 9, 1969.
  20. “Fast Nourishes Protester,” Milwaukee Journal, March 25, 1967.
  21. Penelope Adams Moon, “‘Peace on Earth—Peace in Vietnam’: The Catholic Peace Fellowship and Antiwar Witness, 1964–1976,” Journal of Social History (Summer 2003): 1037.
  22. “Government Rests Case; 16 Testify for Cullen,” unidentified newspaper clipping, n.d., Cullen Papers, Series 5, Box 2.
  23. Moon., 1038–1040.
  24. Francine du Plessix Gray, “The Ultra-Resistance,” New York Review of Books, September 25, 1969.
  25. Father Larry Rosebaugh, “This Is How I See It.”
  26. “Rough Draft for a Brochure on Michael Cullen,” n.d., mimeograph copy, Cullen Papers, Series 5, Box 1.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Ibid.
  29. Anthony Mullaney, “Why Are Three Boston Priests Involved in a Federal Trial?” n.d., Cullen Papers, Series 5, Box 2.
  30. Milwaukee Fourteen Defense Fund (Boston Area), “Peace on Earth . . . Good Will toward Men,” pamphlet, n.d., Cullen Papers, Series 5, Box 2.
  31. Milwaukee Fourteen Defense Fund (Boston Area), “Yes—But Why Didn’t They Go through the Proper Channels?” pamphlet, n.d., Cullen Papers, Series 5, Box 2.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Foley, Confronting the War Machine, 225–233.
  34. “Rough Draft for a Brochure on Michael Cullen.”
  35. “March on Good Friday Protests Vietnam War,” Milwaukee Journal, March 25, 1967.
  36. Eugene Horn, “Archbishop Describes Protest at Cathedral as ‘Disgraceful’ Action,” Catholic Herald (Milwaukee), September 28, 1968.
  37. Mullaney, “Why Are Three Boston Priests.”
  38. “Statement for Issuance.”
  39. “Draft Building ‘Cased’ for Weeks, Cullen Says,” Milwaukee Sentinel, March 21, 1970.
  40. “Intermediary Leads Newsmen to Protest,” Milwaukee Journal, September 25, 1968; “How Press Was Taken to Scene,” Milwaukee Sentinel, September 26, 1969.
  41. “Intermediary Leads Newsmen to Protest,” Milwaukee Journal, September 25, 1968.
  42. “War Protestors Give Statement,” Milwaukee Journal, September 25, 1968.
  43. “Milwaukee 14 Demonstrators Lead the News Crew to a Fire of Burning Draft Records,” September 24, 1968, Milwaukee Journal Stations Records, WTMJ-TV News Film Archives, Wisconsin Historical Society Area Research Center, Golda Meier Library, UW–Milwaukee.
  44. “Selective Service Office Invaded, Records Burned,” Milwaukee Journal, September 25, 1968.
  45. “War Protestors Give Statement.”
  46. “Milwaukee 14 Demonstrators,” WTMJ-TV News Film Archives.
  47. Ibid.
  48. “Democratic Council Blasts Draft Protest,” Milwaukee Journal, September 25, 1968.
  49. Richard Haney, “Wallace in Wisconsin: The Presidential Primary of 1964,” Wisconsin Magazine of History 61, no. 4 (Summer 1978): 268.
  50. Ibid., 270–271.
  51. “Dixie North: George Wallace and the 1964 Wisconsin Presidential Primary,” Sheppard Express (Milwaukee), December 22, 2015.
  52. Rozga, “March on Milwaukee,” 34–35.
  53. “Draft Record Burning Blasted as Anarchy,” Milwaukee Journal, September 25, 1968.
  54. “Agnew Visits Milwaukee,” Eau Claire Leader, September 29, 1968.
  55. “Inexcusable Hooliganism,” Milwaukee Journal, September 26, 1968.
  56. “The Gospel according to Pious Fanatics,” Milwaukee Journal, September 26, 1968.
  57. “Protestors Compared to Saints by Groppi,” Milwaukee Journal, September 26, 1968.
  58. Ibid.
  59. “March Supports Draft Protestors,” Milwaukee Journal, September 26, 1968; “Gregory Addresses Crowd at Marquette,” Milwaukee Journal, September 26, 1968.
  60. Mullaney, “Why Are Three Boston Priests.” Mullaney’s 3,000 is in contrast to the Milwaukee Journal’s report of 500.
  61. “Once Deported, Irishman Takes Oath,” The Capital Times, March 20, 2001.
  62. “Defense Based on Religious Belief Fails; Cullen Guilty of Card Burning,” Catholic Herald Citizen (Milwaukee), March 28, 1970.
  63. Letter from Michael Cullen to Judge Gordon, August 12, 1970, Cullen Papers, Series 5, Box 1.
  64. Jim Forest, “Looking Back on the Milwaukee 14,” March 3, 2006, blog post, accessed at http://jimandnancyforest.com/2006/03/looking-back-on-the-milwaukee-14/.
  65. There were two trials for the Milwaukee Fourteen. Michael Cullen was tried alone due to his immigrant status, Jerry Gardner pleaded guilty and had no trial, and the other twelve had a combined trial. The Chicago action was an attempt to draw attention to the latter.
  66. Gray, “The Ultra-Resistance.”
  67. “Dedicated to the ‘Milwaukee 14’: 18 Arrested in Chicago Draft Data Burning Protest,” Capital Times (Madison), May 26, 1969.
  68. “Violence Rapped by the Milwaukee 14,” Rhinelander Daily News, September 30, 1969.
  69. Michael Cullen, “Statement Concerning the Bombing of the Federal Bldg.,” n.d., Cullen Papers, Series 1 Box 1.

* * *

Below is a link to access the article online and a link to how to purchase hard copies of the issue:

Online access:

http://content.wisconsinhistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/wmh/id/52877

Click on the article on the right hand side and then click on the individual page numbers.

Purchasing hard copies of the issue:

https://shop.wisconsinhistory.org/productcart/pc/Wisconsin-Magazine-of-History-Winter-2017-2018-34p2674.htm

* * *